‘You don’t see what goes on behind closed doors. We love your family members as our own.’ Aged care worker explains she is not ‘incompetent,’ but ‘pressed for time’

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“I am an aged care worker.

It’s 6:30 a.m. and my shift begins. Resident breakfast time is 8 a.m. That’s 90 minutes. By 8 a.m., eleven of my 24 residents are expecting to be sitting in the dining room washed, dressed, and ready for their meal. 

Let’s break that down. That’s 8 minutes and 18 seconds per resident! In 8 minutes, I must use a lifter to transfer each resident from their bed to the toilet, from the toilet to the shower, wash them, shave them, dry them, moisturize them, dress them, comb their hair, brush their teeth, apply hearing aids, dress their wounds, transfer them to a wheelchair, tidy their room, make their bed, empty their bin, and wheel them to the dining room. 8 minutes! 

Meanwhile, in their bedrooms, the other 13 residents lay waiting for their meal. These residents cannot walk, cannot communicate, cannot feed themselves. They require spoon feeding, can only drink through a straw, and have difficulty swallowing. These residents have not yet been touched since the shift began, because the residents with verbal and physical behaviors take priority. They have not yet been cared for, because in a ward of 24 high-care residents, four nurses can only do so much. 

Now it’s 9 a.m., also known as code brown o’clock. 24 residents, and you better believe they all want the toilet at once. As one nurse does the medication round, and another collects the breakfast trays, the remaining two are running, answering multiple buzzers, and toileting several residents at a time. One resident is incontinent. You’ve already showered her this morning, but as you follow the trail of poo from the dining room to her bedroom, you realize she will be needing another shower, and pronto! 

It’s now 9:30 a.m. You’re supposed to take your tea break. But you don’t. Or you do and feel guilty as you scull your cup of cold tea and think about the 13 residents still lying in bed in last night’s pad, unable to buzz for assistance.

Back to it now. You didn’t get to use the toilet. There wasn’t time.

It’s 9:40 a.m. All personal care would ideally be completed by 11 a.m., leaving just enough time to start preparing for lunch. That leaves 6 minutes and 15 seconds per resident to attend to their personal hygiene. This of course is best case scenario, but throw in a fall, a broken hip, a skin tear, a death, a vomit, an upset visitor, or an accidental poop of the pants, and the time left for each resident is shortened.

It’s now 11 a.m. You have not done a single note of paperwork. You’ll be in trouble for that. Paperwork = funding! You try to type your way through chart after chart, but the buzzers never stop. The phone is always ringing. 

The activity hall calls to tell you your residents have finished playing bingo and are ready to be picked up.

The hairdresser calls from the office asking you to bring residents over for their appointments. And somewhere amongst it all, the nurses are trying to fit in their lunch breaks. 

It’s 12 p.m. now. Lunchtime. One nurse delivers yet another round of meds. One is feeding the bed-ridden residents, while the third is supervising those in the dining room. Two residents are fighting over who got the most ice cream, another is choking on her drink because she refuses to have thickened fluids. Another is taking the chewed-up food from her mouth and feeding it to a fellow resident who is asleep at the table with her mouth open. 

You still haven’t gotten to the paperwork. 

It’s 12:30 p.m. now, and so begins the busiest hour of the shift. 24 residents all to be toileted, re-positioned, checked for pressure sores, or returned to bed. An hour is not enough to get this round done, but it has to be. Two staff members are going home at 1 p.m., and the other at 2. After that, you’re on your own.

Now it’s 2:45 p.m. You should be clocking off in 15 minutes! But who are you kidding! You can’t leave until the paperwork’s done.

Its 3:20 p.m. You’re in overtime. Unpaid overtime.

As you type your notes, a resident is spilling his drink straight down the front of his pants. You don’t see this, but his family does. They’ve arrived (yep, right now) for a visit. They do not see the spilled cup under the table, just the wet patch on his pants. They come charging in to speak to you. They use a stern, unimpressed tone. They lecture you about how it is not dignified for their father to be on display with soiled pants. You explain that you are sorry, and that it is in fact only water, but of course you will get him changed right away.

The family did not see their father spit on you at 7 a.m. as you showered him. They didn’t see you massage heat gel gently into his sore knees to soothe the pain. They didn’t see you pick a flower to sit on his lap and cheer him up during breakfast. They didn’t see you encourage him to eat his lunch when he was reluctant to do so. They only saw this. This patch of water on his pants. And now the world is ending. 

LET ME SAY THIS LOUD FOR THE PEOPLE IN THE BACK! 

The media will have you believe that aged care workers are negligent, incompetent, and lacking in skills. Yes, there’s a few stinkers in the bunch, and that is 100% not okay. But you don’t see what goes on behind closed doors, so you are forced to believe only what the media portrays.

They don’t see us hold the hands of a man with Parkinson’s to ease his shakes just for a moment. They don’t see us sing quietly to their favorite old song as we feed them breakfast. They don’t see us cry as we comb the hair of a resident who has just passed away, trying to make them look presentable for their family. They don’t see us go home as a broken, shattered human who has seen more in one day than a lot of people will ever see! 

We are working harder than you know. And feeling like your best is just not good enough, sucks! 

We are not incapable; we are pressed for time! You only hear about the negatives, but please believe the majority of us have good hearts and look after and love your family members as our own.

Sincerely, 

An exhausted care worker xx.”

Tahlia Stagg

**This is NOT a dig at my workplace, this is the reality of aged care. I’m fortunate to work in the best facility in the area, with the most amazing staff you will find, and while it’s the hardest job I’ve ever had and probably will ever have, I love my job!”

This story was written by Tahlia Stagg of Australia. The article originally appeared here. Submit your story here, and subscribe to our best love stories here.

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