Ballarat aged care workers will be part of a pilot program to help improve their mental health and help avert a sector-wide growing aged care staffing crisis in the future.
With massive growth expected in the aged care industry as baby boomers develop higher needs, combined with workers under pressure seeking to leave their jobs, there is concern about the mental wellbeing of staff who remain.
Workload pressures, patient aggression, shift work, physical demands, staff to resident rations and an ageing workforce are all factors that aged care staff across the state have nominated as having the potential to make them change careers.
We need to care for the people caring for our oldest Australians. The nature of their role can place great pressures on their mental wellbeing.BHS director of aged care services Dr Lisa Clinnick
Federation University, Ballarat Health Services and mental health organisation Prevention United have embarked on a three-year project to build an online monitoring and support system to improve the mental wellbeing of about 500 workers across 10 residential aged care services in Ballarat Health Services.
The $1.27 million program, Wellbeing Track and Change, will identify workplace demands on mental wellbeing and use an online support system to help make decisions about the actions needed to better support the mental health of workers.
"We need to care for the people caring for our oldest Australians. The nature of their role can place great pressures on their mental wellbeing," said BHS director of aged care services Dr Lisa Clinnick.
"Workloads are high and demanding, changing rosters and shift work are disruptive to their life, and they're confronted on a regular basis with many of the hardships that ageing can bring".
The agencies received a grant from WorkSafe Victoria's WorkWell Mental Health Improvement Fund for the three-year project.
"When a worker's mental wellbeing is being looked after, they're better placed to provide high quality care to residents. So initiatives like this benefit workers, residents and their families," said Fed Uni Centre for Biopsychosocial and eHealth Research director Professor Britt Klein.
If the trial is successful, Prevention United, Federation University and BHS will work with industry to introduce the program to other residential aged care organisations and sectors.
Prevention United chair Dr Stephen Carbone said Wellbeing Track and Change is a shift in how the mental wellbeing of workers is considered, particularly in high-demand settings like aged care.
"The traditional approach is to look at ways to support an individual worker once they become unwell. But clearly, the smarter way to work is to prevent these problems occurring in the first place by creating a working environment that supports mental wellbeing", Dr Carbone said.
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A survey of aged care workers by health industry superannuation fund HESTA found that because people choose to stay in their homes much longer, by the time they are admitted to aged care most residents require high levels of care or palliative care, and many have chronic health conditions, including greater levels of dementia.
"So what you get in residential care these days are, the oldest, the sickest, the most frail, the most in need, the most complex, at a time when we've got fewer and fewer skilled staff," HESTA's Transforming Aged Care report said.
"The mental health and wellbeing of workers in aged care is often under pressure from high workloads, shift work, challenging patients and other factors - and it impacts on their ability to provide care."
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