‘New thinking needed’ on aged care RN crisis

December 1, 2021

Better status and remuneration are needed to ease the nursing crisis in aged care, says a major recruiter.

Margaret Crozier
Margaret Crozier – ‘no quick fix’

Since the crisis in nurse staffing in 2006, we have failed as a health industry to review what we needed to do domestically to ease the long-term pain of nursing shortages.

The shortage of registered nurses (RNs) is not going to be a quick fix. We need to turn our heads and efforts to how we can build a more sustainable workforce.

As more professions evolve, the competition to attract individuals to carve out a career as an RN has become harder. But what have we done to compete with those new careers being established?

Becoming an RN has many attractive features, including flexible working hours and shifts, global demand, ease of employment following domestic relocation, great career progression and continued learning and development opportunities, to name just a few. So why are people not seeing becoming an RN as a viable career option?

RNs’ salaries pale in comparison to other careers that allow you to achieve that same passion for helping others. Why is that?

We have allowed the mana of the RN to erode in society over the last 30 years.

What is even more perplexing is that the aged-care industry is further disadvantaged. Current government funding for aged-care RNs is approximately $25,000 less per year than that of other government-funded nursing positions. Why?

As a nurse in aged care, you are the most senior clinical expert on site, with a huge skillset. The opportunity to grow and develop is enormous.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of working in this sector is the ability to form long-term relationships with patients, getting to know each resident’s health issues, behaviours, histories and personalities, which all inform their care requirements.

Education institutes are not promoting or encouraging aged-care nursing, which is, in my view, because of an institutional “superiority complex” around nursing in other sectors.

There is an incorrect perception that an aged-care nurse is pretty much a glorified caregiver. This couldn’t be more wrong.

So I call for RNs to be recognised and valued:

  • Let’s grow the mana of RNs in society. The current global pandemic is clear evidence that we can’t live without RNs, so start respecting them and promoting the importance of them in our society.
  • Let’s increase RNs’ remuneration to truly reflect their importance, starting with aged care.
  • Let’s align RNs’ remuneration across all sectors of the health service.
  • Let’s change perceptions about aged-care nurses, starting with education institutes reviewing their curriculum. Don’t use aged-care placements for caregiving skills. Teach students the importance of building a relationship and understanding the resident’s routine to identify when they are more confused than normal, which may signify an infection.
  • Let’s pull together as a health industry to promote registered nursing as a career. Ask the Government to develop scholarships for those working in the health service who want to become RNs, and provide free education and further financial assistance to those studying to be an RN.

This shortage is not just a health industry crisis – it is yours and mine as members of society. Because we all know, at some point, every one of us will need an RN’s help.

Margaret Crozier, BPsych, MBA, is the general manager of human resources for Heritage Lifecare, with a strong focus on nurse recruitment. Heritage Lifecare is among the largest providers of aged residential care in New Zealand.