American politician Hubert H. Humphrey was paraphrasing Ghandi when he said “…the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”
He’s right. And there’s plenty that NZNO members might want to say about that (check out NZNO’s priorities for health here), but let’s have a look at how we value our older citizens today.
The government approach to care of older people in Aotearoa is ageist. By under-funding this sector, the government is signaling that older people don’t matter. And by extension, neither do the workers who care for them. Staff in residential aged care facilities are some of the lowest paid workers in New Zealand, and successive governments, for over 20 years, have allowed that to continue.
In one of our many submissions to government we put it this way:
“The high cost of providing substandard aged care is unsustainable and unjust: public health resources are unaccounted for; where there is a failure of care it is public health which ‘picks up the tag’ for care it has already paid for; services are being contracted out for care of our parents and grandparents with even less protection for their physical and mental wellbeing than for their financial wellbeing; public safety and our professional health workforce are being undermined: and an underclass of undervalued and underpaid workers is being embedded in our workforce while highly educated workers are leaving.”
That’s not valuing our elders or the people who care for them. We are failing to provide sufficient protection for the health, welfare and financial stability of either older people or those who work with them.
So, how do we change things? How can we show older people the respect and dignity they deserve?
Well, one way of doing that would be to value the people who care for them, and there’s a few ways of getting there…
Increase government funding to residential aged care providers; it’s just plain unfair that health care assistants and caregivers who work in aged care facilities get nowhere near as much as their colleagues who work in DHBs. The Government also needs to make sure that funding is passed on to workers, not retained as private sector profits.
A quality, nationwide training and education programme would achieve two things: consistently provided quality care for residents and a career pathway that would attract and retain great staff.
Regulate for safe staffing! Our members want to provide quality care, but at the same time as residents care needs increase, our members face continuous cuts to care hours. How can workers enjoy their work when they are stressed, overworkerd and worried about missing something and making a mistake? There must be enough staff to provide quality care for every resident.
None of this is rocket science, and none of it is news to the sector or the government. All that’s needed now is action! Action to value older New Zealanders and the people who care for them.
Our elders should be valued and celebrated. The workers who are carrying out the responsible and skilled work of caring for our elders should be valued, celebrated, admired and supported for their important work too.