TriCare story has union concerned for patients
AGED care in Queensland is increasingly driven by a quest for profit while laws fail to regulate minimum staff ratios, resulting in overworked carers and endangering the lives of residents, a union leader has warned.
The stories this week have prompted a flood of stories to the NewsMail not confined to TriCare.
QNU secretary Beth Mohle said the lack of any laws requiring minimum staff ratios was a disgrace.
"There are minimum safe staffing levels for childcare centres and not aged care and that's the question we've been asking all along," Ms Mohle said.
"We have vulnerable elderly people who need looking after.
"Last year we asked for an urgent review of (staffing legislation)."
The issue is at the centre of the union's Ratios Save Lives campaign.
Last year the union commissioned research that suggested high care residents should be getting 4.3 hours of care per day and that more highly skilled nurses were needed.
"There is no requirement to have a (registered nurse) on shift 24/7 at an aged care facility - that's a bare minimum," Ms Mohle said.
"We've heard reports of one RN caring for up to 200 residents at night.
"Increasingly our members are reporting having to do on call and remote phonecalls, and coming in on their days off to care for residents.
"We based the campaign on existing NSW legislation (requiring minimum staff ratios) that has since been scrapped (last year), which is appalling."
Following the NewsMail's story in which Heather Mansell-Brown called for more staff after her husband Bill was left on a veranda covered in his own faeces, and on another occasion left in a wet incontinence pad for 12 hours causing his scrotum to bleed, the QNU was inundated with calls from nurses and the public.
"We could not get people off the phone because they were so distressed and angry because of what they were seeing in aged care," Ms Mohle said.
Ms Mohle said the aged care sector was becoming increasingly dominated by commercial enterprise.
"The profit motive is very powerful (and) increasingly we're finding is there's been such a huge growth in for-profit providers, we think in a few years they will be the dominant providers," she said.
"We're currently in a huge enterprise bargaining agreement with BlueCare and it is not a pretty picture."
TriCare was among the lowest-paying providers in the state, she said, adding that in enterprise bargaining negotiations last year, TriCare rejected mandatory staffing ratios proposed by the QNU.
TriCare director Michael O'Connor said balancing quality of care with delivering results for shareholders was "always a juggle" but he defended the company's quality of care, saying staff ratios were "appropriate and adequate".
"We are governed by the accreditation agency, we have to meet standards of care," Mr O'Connor said.
"That's a safety net, if you like."
The safety of some residents of TriCare's high care unit, however, has been called into question, with two families' claims of poor care due to a lack of staff published in the NewsMail this week.
Mr O'Connor confirmed TriCare rejected the QNU's demand for staff ratios.
"That's true we did reject that, and we do reject that because we staff our facilities properly and adequately," he said.
"We do that by determining staffing by continually assessing resident's care needs.
"To do it by numbers would be inferior."
He also rejected claims by Beth Mohle that nurses were "better off under the award" than the conditions previous TriCare industrial agreement.
"As an overall package we were at least equal to the award," Mr O'Connor said.
Asked if he had ever heard of instances of his staff being overstretched, Mr O'Connor replied, "No."
Changing of incontinence pads and wound dressings, hydration levels and food quality, infections, hygiene and comfort were some of the themes in the complaints by family members of TriCare Bundaberg.