The NZNO is challenging proposed staffing changes at two facilities run by Presbyterian Support Southland (PSS), saying they will reduce standards of patient care and put extra strain on nursing and care staff, and that they are being justified on out-of-date guidelines.

NZNO Organiser Simone Montgomery said that across its hospital services and two rest homes (Vickery Court in Invercargill and Rest Haven in Gore), the PSS proposals would cut net staff care by around 157 hours per week.

However Presbyterian Support Southland chief executive John Prendergast says the NZNO doesn’t have its facts straight.

“It is irresponsible of the NZNO to say that we are looking to reduce the level or quality of care that we provide for our residents – we are looking to do precisely the opposite.”

PSS began consultation with staff about proposed changes to staffing levels on 29th August, ending on 12th September. Prendergast explains the proposed changes in detail.

“Based on our current occupancy, the proposed net reduction in overall care hours is 90 hours per week across the two facilities, not 157 hours,” says Prendergast. “The mix of care hours between Registered and Enrolled Nursing hours, and Care Worker hours, is also proposed to be changed – we are significantly increasing nursing hours by 336 hours per week, but reducing Care Worker hours by 426 – thus the overall net decrease of 90 hours. The 90 hour per week reduction is from total rostered hours of 3,050 hours per week across the two homes.”

“We are proposing the changed mix of hours, resulting in the slight reduction in net hours, to ensure we are staffing our homes appropriately and to ensure that we continue to maintain safe staffing levels.”

But Montgomery says the reduction in hours suggests to staff they aren’t valued.

“The clear message in all of this to current staff, who are already overstretched, is that somehow they aren’t working well or hard enough, and that’s ridiculous.”

Prendergast strongly refutes this.

“We have an amazing workforce who provide the highest level of care for our residents, and in recent weeks care workers have received a significant uplift in their wages as a result of the historic pay equity settlement, and we have also significantly increased wage rates for all of our nursing staff, up to the same level that the government funds DHB-employed nurses.”

Montgomery says any staff reductions should not be based on the outdated 2005 Aged Care Staffing Guidelines, which are voluntary.

She points to NZNO and E tū’s joint report, In safe hands? How poor staffing levels and rationed care are harming aged care residents and staff, released in March this year. The research surveyed 1194 people working in aged care facilities and found that three quarters (73.45 percent) of those surveyed either disagreed or strongly disagreed that staffing levels were sufficient to provide quality care for residents.

The report called for a review of the existing standards and that new resulting standards be made compulsory. The 2005 standards currently in place are voluntary.

On this, PSS is in agreement with the union.

“The NZNO are correct in saying that the industry-wide safe staffing guidelines are in need of review. We continue to actively advocate for those guidelines to be reviewed. In the meantime however, the funding that DHBs provide residential aged care providers is based largely on safe staffing level guidelines, and we are obviously compelled to manage within that resourcing that the DHB provides to us and other providers,” says Prendergast.

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