Time to take a fresh look at aged care
The closure of Wesleyhaven Retirement Village is symptomatic of the headwinds facing New Zealand’s aged residential care sector, with unprecedented demand, workforce shortages and a system and funding model that is outdated and inadequate.
We have more people ageing and living longer than ever before in our history – and the older we get the more complex are our care needs.
Yet, at a time when we need more caregivers, we’re seeing immigration policies that will reduce the ability of employers to recruit and retain much-needed and valued migrant workers.
And, at a time when we need more beds, we’re seeing rest homes forced to close or under the financial strain of the pay equity settlement.
Don’t get me wrong – the New Zealand Aged Care Association fought long and hard for an uplift in caregiver wages. We advised Government of what would happen if the settlement was not fully funded. And it’s happening, with more than 100 NZACA members facing possible closure or restructuring and redundancies in the months ahead.
Those most impacted are the smaller facilities like Wesleyhaven, and the rural, faith and welfare-based and not-forprofit facilities. These operators are stalwarts of our communities, critical to providing care for old people where options might not otherwise exist. We cannot see any further closures.
We’re working urgently with Government on a transitional funding package to support these providers through the next six to 12 months.
We’re also seeing an intensification of district health boards favouring home-based care over aged residential care. Our sector is not against people staying at home, but where the person’s acuity is such that aged residential care will enhance their health and well-being and where residents and families support this, we don’t believe that DHBs should be putting up barriers.
Then there’s the issue of caregiver shortages. Even with the uplift in caregiver wages, existing workforce shortages are going to continue. Over the next decade, we’ll need an extra 1000 caregivers a year to care for up to 20,000 additional residents expected to be living in aged care facilities by 2026.
Currently, around a third of New Zealand’s aged care workforce hold some form of work or residence visa. Given the future demand forecasts, this proportion isn’t likely to decrease.
As we head into the election, rather than focusing on reducing immigration we need policies that enable our aged residential care sector to recruit and retain migrant caregivers – and have certainty of supply.
The Government’s recent immigration changes, including introducing remuneration thresholds as a proxy for skill and a three-year stand-down period for Essential Skills visa holders – do not do that. They will see trained and committed caregivers having to leave New Zealand after three years as well as going through an annual renewal process.
The NZACA welcomes a review of the completely outdated Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) that have been signalled for a phase two of temporary migration settings, but the review can’t come soon enough.
Currently caregivers are classified as ANZSCO Level 4, which excludes these skilled and valued workers from the Government’s recent changes. However, for Pay Equity Settlement purposes, the Government recognises many caregivers as NZQA Level 4, which is the equivalent to ANZSCO Level 3.
We understand that immigration policy is premised on a New Zealanders-first approach and that employers must do all they can to employ and train New Zealanders.
Our 600 members across the aged residential care sector explore all possible options to employ New Zealanders but there just isn’t the pool of Kiwi talent available to do the work.
As an example, at a recent job expo run by the Ministry of Social Development, one NZACA member received a total of 249 queries followed by 138 expressions of interest, but resulting in just one suitable Kiwi being employed.
The Government has valued caregivers to the tune of $2 billion with a well-deserved increase in caregiver wages and this workforce includes many migrant workers.
Ultimately, the issues facing the sector are broader than immigration and pay equity funding.
We are facing an unprecedented demand situation and we need to take a fresh look at how we manage and deliver care to our vulnerable older people now and into the future.
Simon Wallace is CEO of the New Zealand Aged Care Association (NZACA)
At a time when we need more beds, we’re seeing rest homes such as Westleyhaven forced to close.