Jodi Buhler’s love for old people originated when she helped out her mother, a professional caregiver – but she believes most people working in aged care lack the compassion necessary for such work.
Ms Buhler recalled the days when she would accompany her mother on her shift, an experience she said had made her comfortable around the elderly.
She never lost that love or concern even when employed at her former job as a cleaner: ““I’d be wheeling a bin outside at my old workplace and I’d see these old people just ready to fall, so I’d let the bin go flying and run over and grab that person.”
Ms Buhler, who became a caregiver 15 years ago, said she feared that aged-care residences were not hiring the right people for the job.
According to Ms Buhler, most carers don’t have the right passion, compassion and understanding of what caregiving involves.
It was too easy to get a job in aged care, she told The Standard, just by enrolling in TAFE and studying for six to eight weeks, then automatically being classed as a personal carer.
“It’s all well and good to just sit somewhere and learn, but there should be a lot more practical on-the-job training,” she said.
Monica Gangi, a nurse and a carer herself, agreed with Ms Buhler, saying some carers were “incompetent” and motivated to enter the field of geriatric nursing for “the sake of having a job”.
She added: “Working in aged care is a career you need to love doing as you are looking after people. You need to be able to actually care for the residents.”
Ms Gangi conceded that aged-care establishments were short-staffed, with poor “carer to resident” ratios.
The independent consumer-based advocacy group Aged Care Crisis has said there are no mandated minimum staff/resident ratios in aged-care homes anywhere in Australia.
The federal Aged Care Act 1997 only states: “The most vital aspect of care provision is that there must be an adequate number of appropriately trained staff.”
On average, caregivers are paid from $18–$25 an hour to carry out tasks such as feeding, showering and taking residents to the toilet.
Ms Gangi and Ms Buhler agreed that their work went completely unnoticed by some and that their services were often unappreciated.
Ms Buhler: “The management that isn’t on our floor, or that we keep in touch with on a daily basis, have no idea about the work that we do.”
For almost three years Helen Cardiff, 82, has occupied a serviced apartment at a retirement village in Glen Waverley.
She agreed that aged-care facilities needed to employ people who were passionate and actually wanted to help others.
Her apartment is in the retirement village’s assisted-living unit and Mrs Cardiff requires assistance to dress herself and with house-cleaning.
She paid particular tribute to one carer at the village, Liezl Jones, who had made her feel comfortable from the day she moved in.
“She reminds me of my daughter and never fails to make me smile,” said Mrs Cardiff, calling her “one of the most caring employees I have had the pleasure of knowing”.
Mrs Jones, 47, who has been working in senior care for 12 years, said her career started after her mother had been diagnosed with dementia.
“My mum would start off with just forgetting where she put the TV remote, and then eventually wasn’t even able to dress herself,” she said.
“That’s when I decided helping the elderly was for me, as I was able to understand what it is like for people with this saddening condition.”
Mrs Jones said helping residents such as Mrs Cardiff gave her a “sense of worth” and allowed her to provide the care she had not been able to give her own mother.
Helping the elderly with certain tasks could be challenging at times, which is why employees really needed to love the job.
Ms Buhler agreed the work could be arduous: “People don’t realise that not everyone is the same and you are going to encounter different behaviours.
“There are going to be people who don’t like to be handled, who want to spit and kick you, people that can’t talk to you any more and [have] reverted back to their native tongue.
“That’s why you really have to be passionate and find helping others rewarding.”