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How COVID-19 has changed aged care nursing

How COVID-19 has changed aged care nursing
Photo: How COVID-19 has changed aged care nursing
The ripple effect of COVID-19 has been far reaching, impacting many professions across Australia, particularly within the health industry, but perhaps none more so than aged care nurses.

“COVID-19 has placed huge demands on aged care nurses - they have had to manage increased workloads, acute care needs and staff shortages (due to staff having to isolate), whilst ensuring that their infection prevention and control practices were maintained at all times,” says Altura Learning's Nurse Educator Stephanie Lesta, RN.

Traditionally, the skills required by an aged care nurse are incredibly diverse.

“The aged care nurse needs to have strong clinical management skills, ranging from observation and assessment of older people, including acute deterioration, to the management of complex care needs, such as chronic wounds, continence, pain, palliative care, medication, infection control and dementia care,” says Ms Lesta.
“An aged care nurse also needs to have strong leadership, effective communication and time management skills, remaining responsive and flexible to the ever-changing environment they work within.”

Aged care nurses are responsible for overseeing the clinical care of the residents, as well supervising and supporting the staff and liaising with families, GP’s and allied health professionals.

“Whilst there are common routines and expected tasks that an aged care nurse will be completing every day, such as handover, medication rounds, wound dressings, case conferences and care planning, nurses must also expect the unexpected.

“This may include the acute deterioration of a resident or an unplanned hazard in the workplace, requiring their immediate attention.”
COVID-19 has highlighted the significant challenge that already exists for those working in aged care, as well as brining about a host of new ones.

“Older people are at increased risk of COVID-19 infection and are more vulnerable to serious complications if they do become infected. Aged care nurses have a serious responsibility to protect the older people in their care.

“Infection prevention and control training was essential. All staff had to receive specific training on COVID-19 infection control requirements, including how to don and doff PPE appropriately.”

Due to staff shortages across the workforce, additional staff had to be hired to assist nurses with the care of residents.

As a result, Altura Learning, in partnership with LASA and DASH Group provided training for those being employed from hospitality industries, who were interested and available to support the aged care sector, but required specific training tailored to the care of older people.

For aged care nurses, the impact of COVID-19 has been personal, as well as professional.

“Nurses have had to risk their health and well-being for the sake of the older people they care for.

“They have also had to consider their own movement outside of work, in order to maintain the health and well-being of their residents.

“The demands of this past year have often been stressful and tiring for nurses working in the aged care industry.”

Ms Lesta says the greatest challenge for staff in navigating these changes is developing the skills required to perform their role adequately.

“Strong leadership and sufficient resources play an important part, but in order to support and prepare staff for the changes they are navigating in aged care, training is essential.

“Aged care nurses need to develop strong leadership and outbreak management skills.

“COVID-19 has also highlighted the need for increased communication with residents and families, as well as the management of complex care needs.

“And of course, infection prevention and control continues to be a crucial skill set for all staff in aged care.”

Since the pandemic’s arrival, we have seen the introduction of an Infection Prevention and Control lead role, as a requirement for all aged care facilities.

“This highlights the need for improved infection control practices and effective outbreak management in care homes.

“The adopted recommendations made by the Royal Commission will also see some permanent and positive changes to the aged care sector that will improve the experience of care for older people and provide additional support for the aged care workforce.

“Aged care nurses need to be responsive and flexible, whilst remaining compassionate and caring towards our most vulnerable members of society.”

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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications (www.stellacomms.com) and a children's author.