Overwork, mental health issues, plague aged care inspectors

The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission returned a wellbeing index of just 55 per cent in the 2019 census across the public service. Just 28 per cent of staff said the agency did a good job of promoting health and wellbeing among staff.

Only 49 per cent were happy with the agency’s policies to support health and wellbeing among staff. Out of 97 agencies surveyed in the census, the commission’s score is 96th for wellbeing.

While staff reported to the census they were committed to their agency’s goals and willing to go the extra mile, a survey by the main public sector union of members held last year paints a picture of poor culture with staff afraid to speak out or ask for help with their mental health.

The Community and Public Sector Union surveyed its members at the commission across the end of 2018 and start of 2019. Most responses came from quality surveyors, who are responsible for inspecting aged care facilities across the country.

Of those surveyed, 64 per cent said the amount of work they were expected to do was unreasonable, with not enough time allocated to inspect facilities and write the corresponding reports.

Three in four respondents said they didn’t talk to their managers about their workload because they were worried it would lead questions over their ability to do their job, while half said they knew other staff had been mistreated after raising similar issues.

Surveyors also reported a culture of bullying, with 65 per cent of those who had experienced bullying saying they were scared to report it due to the possibility of reprisal.

The Aged Quality and Safety Commission replaced the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency and the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner in 2019 after a recommendation from a review into aged care regulation that preceded the current royal commission.

Staff reported that they didn’t feel the changes involved with moving to the new agency were well communicated and they didn’t feel that their feedback was listened to. The establishment of the new agency coincided with an increase in contact from the public and complaints about facilities. There was a 17 per cent increase in complaints from the last six months of 2018 (3608) to the first six months of 2019 (4220).

The main public sector union says these workers are at the forefront of aged care safety and staffing cuts have hindered their capacity to do their work.

“The AACQA and now the Commission has the second worst staff wellbeing score, these results are concerning at a time when major changes are occurring across this agency and workforce both in the delivery and complexity of their work,” said National Vice President of the Community and Public Sector Union Brooke Muscat-Bentley.

Ms Muscat-Bentley said more staff were needed to ensure the Commission could implement recommendations from the aged care royal commission.

“Our members are dedicated but over worked, they continue to ensure safety for our older Australians across the country but are not adequately supported in their work. There are more complaints and investigations than ever before, but not enough staff or support to meet these needs due to the average staffing level (ASL) cap.”

The agency’s boss, aged care quality and safety commissioner Janet Anderson said she valued the feedback from staff in the employee census and was giving attention to wellbeing issues highlighted.

“The commissioner and executives have worked on looking behind the Census high level results to explore with staff the various factors that could be contributing to this finding,” Ms Anderson said.

As well as a workshop with managers about wellbeing issues, the commissioner said she had been part of informal conversations with staff across the agency, and a follow-up survey had led to a review and new approaches to be implemented this year.

“In 2019 the commission launched a new performance and development framework to provide an opportunity for more regular two way feedback between supervisors and their staff and better understanding of staff development needs. This new framework is now providing improved support for staff across the commission, and will continue to be promoted as a useful tool in enhancing open communications within the organisation.”

Ms Anderson said the commission took staff mental health “very seriously” and the employee assistance program was promoted to staff regularly.

“The commissioner and executives are fully aware of the importance of maintaining a strong focus on these issues. Organisational development priorities are receiving ongoing attention in the Commission, and we continue to explore and implement strategies for addressing the range of factors that impact on staff’s sense of wellbeing,” Ms Anderson said.