COVID-19: Aged care facilities feeling pressure of staff shortages

The level 4 lockdown has shone a spotlight on one sector in particular, and that's aged care.

Last lockdown a Christchurch facility became the country's deadliest cluster. This time, the focus is on the pressure of staff shortages at aged care facilities.

Last lockdown 12 deaths were linked to the cluster at Rosewood Resthome. It was New Zealand's deadliest cluster.

Several other resthomes throughout the country also had outbreaks. A lot's been learned since then.

"It's not new anymore. We're not as frightened by it but equally the preparation is stronger, staff are better trained, they understand what to do, they've practised it, we've done scenarios," says Heritage Lifecare and Resthomes CEO Norah Barlow.

Back then the biggest issue was PPE supply - this time it's lack of staff.

"Across the 650 homes around New Zealand we are short of 900 registered nurses and that's out of a workforce of 5000 so nearly 20 percent of our workforce," NZ Aged Care Association CEO Simon Wallace says.

They're leaving for better pay at District Health Boards and to become COVID vaccinators.

"They can pay a lot more, sometimes $10,000-$20,000," Wallace explains.

Compromising care isn't an option, so some rest homes are turning people away. Fifteen hospital-level units already closed.

"Plus we've got the added issue of the border where we have 350 migrant nurses waiting to come into New Zealand and we can't get them here because of MIQ space," Wallace says.

When the Government was asked about staffing issues at aged care facilities it offered praise.

"All of our front-line workers thank you. We acknowledge that you're under an enormous amount of pressure and I think our health system is responding remarkably well and I think we should all be grateful for the work you're putting in," COVID Response Minister Chris Hipkins said.

Grateful but left wanting.

"The fact is that we're not being listened to by the Government," Wallace says.

Well-prepared should there be an outbreak within a facility but under immense pressure as staffing levels are squeezed.