Public reporting of staffing levels – and minimum staffing ratios – on the cards at upcoming workforce hearings

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A consumer ratings website for aged care homes to publicly identify staffing levels and skills mix – along with set minimum staffing levels – appears one step closer, based on the backgrounds of the two international witnesses due to give evidence at next week’s workforce hearing.

The first witness, Professor Charlene Harrington (pictured above) is a Professor emerita of sociology and nursing in the department of social and behavioral sciences in the School of Nursing at the University of California in San Francisco where she has worked for 40 years.

Her major focus of study is nursing home quality and regulation, following on from her time as the director of the California Division of Licensing and Certification which she joined in 1975.

Pertinently, Prof Harrington developed the Nursing Home Consumer Information System – funded by the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research from 1995 to 2000 – that was used to develop the US Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare website.

She also led the team that designed California’s consumer information website for their nursing homes which launched in 2002 and which she continues to head up today.

The Professor has also been an outspoken advocate for higher staffing levels.

In July last year, she blamed providers’ failure to adequately staff facilities for the poor standards at a number of nursing homes in Pennsylvania.

“The workers can’t get the work done because staffers don’t have enough staff to do it. Patients are neglected and abused,” she said. “Ulcers … falls … weight loss … overuse of anti-psychotic drugs … all the problems found in nursing homes are related to inadequate staffing.”

Prof Harrington added that For Profits in the US are making “excessive profits” by employing minimal staff.

The second witness, Dr Katherine Ravenswood (pictured left inset) has a similarly interesting background.

An Associate Professor at Auckland University of Technology, her research is based around employment relations, in particular care/work regimes, women at work, and voice and inequality.

Dr Ravenswood also leads the New Zealand Aged Care Workforce Survey, which conducts regular surveys on the work experiences of care and support workers, enrolled registered nurses and managers across aged care, home care, disability support and mental health and addiction.

Critically for the Commission, the Assoc Prof was responsible for a study published in April 2019 that found New Zealand’s historic equal pay settlement in 2017 – which saw 55,000 low-paid staff receive pay rises between 15 and 50% – didn’t help to attract and retain workers.

Their report concluded workers wanted more respect – and to feel that their work is valued.

“It is likely that with some positive messaging around care and support work, it will gain more value and respect within society, thus attracting a wider range of people to the work,” it states.

Commissioner Lynelle Briggs has already acknowledged aged care staff need higher wages – will this hearing find respect is also key to building Australia’s workforce?

I will be at the hearing to report on the latest news.

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