Saturday, July 20, 2024

Home support provides a crucial service

Many Grey Power members are aware that the Federation supports other organisations to improve conditions for older people and one of these kindred organisations is the E tū union which empowers its members to improve their working lives and advocate for better conditions. Home and Community Support Service carers can belong to E tū.

Grey Power has been lobbying for fair and equitable Home and Community Support Services for the last few years because numerous members report that they are not receiving adequate care. However, quite where this service breaks down is not always clear and some older people believe the fault lies with their carer. Consequently, Marianne Bishop MNZM (E tū CSS Industry Council Convenor) has kindly gathered together the following stories from several carers to provide their perspectives on the situation. Grey Power thanks Marianne and the carers for this.

Insights from some support workers

Home support workers are often described as “invisible workers” because they have no set workplace, travelling between clients’ homes to do their jobs. No two days are the same in this rewarding but challenging role. Below, four home support workers across New Zealand, who are workplace delegates of the union E tū, share their perspectives.

Monique Behan-Kitto, Gisborne:

What I love most about being a home support worker is the big impact I have on people’s lives. It feels awesome to know that I’ve helped folks with everyday stuff that many don’t think twice about. Seeing those little moments of recognition in someone with dementia or the gradual improvements in speech and movement for stroke survivors is really satisfying.

However, there are some real challenges in this field, especially with big companies trying to make a profit. We used to work with local teams who really understood what the people we were helping needed. We used to focus on care plans that aimed to keep our clients independent. If I could change one big thing, it would be getting rid of the for-profit system in home and community support. Our clients, who paid taxes their whole lives, deserve a service that cares about them more than making money.

I’m all for local providers with local staff, or maybe a revamp under Te Whatu Ora, possibly teaming up with district nursing or long-term conditions units. This way, the money goes into proper care, making personalised and overall good care plans.

For those using our services, here’s my advice: if you’re not happy, reach out to health and disability advocates, Grey Power representatives, or veterans affairs case managers. Home support should be a team effort, fitted to each person’s needs, helping them live on their own terms. Having a to-do list for home tasks helps keep things going smoothly, especially if your usual caregiver can’t make it. Together, we’re working hard to bring some positive change to the lives of those we help.

Tamara Baddeley, Hawke’s Bay:

What I really like about being a home support worker is meeting lots of different people every day. Using different skills and making decisions that the client agrees with makes me feel good. Knowing that I’ve made a real difference in someone’s life and that each day is different keeps me interested in my job.

Both workers and clients know there are some real problems to address. Dealing with loneliness, bad communication, and not getting enough help from coordinators or nurses can be tough. Even though they call us the “eyes and ears of the business,” we often don’t have the power to stand up for our clients, especially when it comes to getting more time. Problems with reaching nurses or team leaders make each day different, but not always in a good way.

For people we take care of, my advice is to keep good records of every talk you have with the provider, insist on getting the help you need, and don’t let them ignore you. Knowing you have the right to get the support you’re supposed to is very important.

To make things better, we need to get rid of companies just chasing profits without being clear about where the money goes. Instead of online training, let’s do hands-on training for the important tasks like helping clients with their medicines, getting them cleaned up, and using medical equipment. Also, DHBs and employers should recognise and respect the important role we play in helping district nurses and hospitals.

Here’s a real example: we need better plans when someone leaves the hospital, so clients and families don’t get stressed out for no reason. The problems with communication show we need a much better system with smoother information flow.

These problems show it’s not just about seeing the challenges but really doing something to make home support more helpful and responsive.

Johann Sneygans, Timaru:

I work both in the community and at an aged care facility, and I’m deeply passionate about my job. The people I assist require considerable care, support, comfort, and, above all, acceptance, compassion, and appreciation.

When I meet my clients, they patiently wait for me to complete my tasks before leaving. I uplift their spirits with compliments and humour, resulting in a noticeable change in their attitudes. Often, they do not want me to actually do any work – they need my attention, compliments and jokes more than anything else – but the job must be done. I do really like to bring joy in their lives.

Unfortunately, as Health Care Assistants, we don’t get adequate support from our offices, including proper equipment for the job and sufficient travel time to reach clients.

Recently, I was provided with food gloves instead of the necessary medical gloves. These gloves do not offer the required protection for our clients or ourselves. Clearly labelled as ‘non-sterile’ gloves suitable for handling food, they are not appropriate for medical use.

This is a problem for tasks like peg feeds, catheter and stoma bag cares, wound dressings, insulin injections, handling skin diseases, and more. The explanation provided was that Covid is no longer a concern, but we’ve been using these medical gloves long before the world became aware of Covid. Food gloves are designed solely for avoiding direct contact with food using bare hands.

Pam King, Invercargill:

I’ve been working as a caregiver for 27 years, and I really find joy in what I do. It’s fulfilling, but there are challenges that home support workers like me face.

One significant challenge is the lack of breaks and travel time between clients. We go straight from one client to another, eating and drinking in the car while driving. Road works can further delay us, and it’s often a struggle to communicate these delays to the office. This means clients might not always know why we’re late.

Ensuring guaranteed hours is another concern. Losing hours affects our income, and sometimes, when a regular carer can’t make it, clients might go without home management or housework for up to six weeks. Extra clients are sometimes added to our schedule, leading to unexpected trips.

The costs of using our private cars add up, affecting our hourly rate. Covering exceptional travel distances before getting any reimbursement is a challenge. I’ve put 200,358 kms on my car in six years, and it needs more servicing, along with other costs like tires, battery, petrol, and commercial car insurance – roughly $300 a week.

A possible solution could be providing home support workers with company cars and covering associated expenses. Alternatively, we could work for public hospitals, just like our district nurses do.

Looking forward, we need to make caregiving more appealing, especially as carers are getting older. We need decent wages and sustainable conditions, or we might end up with home support robots – is that what we really want?

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