Nursing shortages mean rest homes are making tough decisions to close off beds
Rest homes are closing off their beds to manage a chronic shortage of registered nurses.
Nationally, the aged care sector had a 20 per cent staffing shortage – more than 1000 registered nurses.
The shortage of nurses had caused more than 550 beds to close in the past six months.
Carterton rest home Carter Court facility manager Jo McDonald said the shortages had grown worse within the past year.
“It has always been bubbling around, but in the last year, it has become chronic.
“Due to nursing shortages, a lot of care homes in Wairarapa have had to close off beds, and this has impacted us with the pressure of taking residents when a bed becomes available.
“We have a new hospital wing about to open. However, we are hesitant to open just now due to the current nursing situation and covid staff sickness.
“We have most of our new beds earmarked for people waiting in the community to take up occupancy of these beds.”
She said the staffing crisis had caused nurses to pick up additional shifts.
“Our staff have done amazing work under the present challenging circumstances, and we always make sure we have enough staff to provide safe care for our residents on all shifts.
“This often means that our staff are picking up extra shifts, sometimes doing double shifts, coming in on their annual leave days, and our nurse manager often provides cover for all shifts.”
She said it was important for staff not to burn out and manage fatigue, but covid and nursing shortages made it difficult.
McDonald said it was challenging to attract internationally qualified nurses to the infrastructure and lack of housing in South Wairarapa.
“Nurses are pivotal to us keeping our rest home running, and we hope that the current challenges are addressed by those in government to provide for our most vulnerable community members.”
At least three rest homes had closed in Wairarapa in the past three years, with Wharekaka in Martinborough closing earlier this year, Aversham House in Masterton closing last year, and the Arbor House rest home in Greytown closing in 2019.
New Zealand Aged Care Association chief executive Simon Wallace said the closure of beds meant some vulnerable New Zealanders had to move out of town to rest homes or the public hospital for care.
“The shortages of registered nurses in rest homes are nationwide, and Wairarapa, like other towns, cities, and metropolitan areas, will likely continue to lose hospital-level beds unless the government takes urgent action.”
He said the continued border restrictions, lack of investment in nurses’ training, and the salary gap compared with nurses in public hospitals caused the shortage of nurses.
In 2022, nursing enrolments in the region were down from previous years.
At UCOL Wairarapa, there were 17 first-year enrolments for the Bachelor of Nursing this year, compared with 31 in 2021.
However, director Carrie McKenzie said there were 21 nursing students in the final year of their degrees.