Damning survey shows aged care workers are burnt out, understaffed and unable to provide adequate care

A heart-breaking new survey shows only one in 10 aged care workers believe their workplaces are sufficiently staffed to provide quality care.

New Zealand union E Tū and the New Zealand Nurses Organisation surveyed 1200 caregivers about the staffing issues they face.

Members of E Tū report it is common for only two caregivers to be in charge of up to 60 elderly and vulnerable residents.

"They can't take breaks because they want to get their work done. Then at the end of the day, they're sitting in their cars and crying," said E Tū delegate, and aged care worker Marianne Bishop.

One aged care worker, who did not wish to be named, told Newshub they are suffering from a lack of staffing.

"On a day to day basis, I look after 32 elderly people with dementia. Energy wise, I am suffering," they told Newshub.

"Carer burn out is a real issue. You just lose that empathy and that enthusiasm."

"[Residents] become a task more than a person."

A lack of staff leads to care rationing - staff must decide who gets prioritised, and what can be delayed. Medication gets delayed, and illnesses can be missed. Residents are reluctant to speak up, because they feel like a burden.

"[Residents] feel like a number on a list of jobs to do, rather than a person in their own home because staff are always rushed and struggling," said a carer who did not wish to be named.

In one tragic case, an elderly resident did not report an infected wound to care workers, because they could see how overworked the carers were.

The resident ended up dying from their infection.

Caregivers are burning out, buried under crushing workloads, and funding has been "cut to the bone," according to E Tū industry coordinator Alastair Duncan. 

Staffing standards are outdated - people are entering care homes at a later stage in life, meaning their care needs are more complex.

Eighty-one percent of staff report significant increase in the needs of residents over the last few years, and yet the standards of care have remained the same.

For an elderly resident with dementia, the recommended care hours are just two hours a day. 

Rest homes are under no obligation to ensure this standard is met.

"Care is being denied to vulnerable elderly people who need it," said Mr Duncan. 

"Residents are frailer with more complex care needs. At the end of the day, it's the vulnerable elderly who suffer," said Mr Duncan.

"It means carers can't spend any quality time with them. Our members get very upset that they can't spare a moment to comfort an elderly person, or just talk to them."

The Aged Care Association says the issue is not staffing numbers - it's about having staff who have the right skills to provide quality care.

"Setting higher staffing ratios is a blunt tool for ensuring the quality of care," said Aged Care Association CEO, Simon Wallace.

"We are looking after 35,000 on a daily basis, and there'll always be situations where the care could be better."