Toowoomba aged care facility shelves proposed nursing cuts

A TOOWOOMBA aged care facility has backed down from proposed cuts to registered nursing hours in the face of opposition from residents and the Queensland Nurses and Midwives Union.

Aveo, the parent company of Freedom Aged Care Toowoomba's Bridge St facility, confirmed that a registered nurse will remain onsite 24/7 to meet residents' assessed care needs, and would not be affected by changes to the operational roster for registered nurses and other care staff.

QNMU secretary Beth Mohle said the union was first contacted by staff at the Freedom Aged Care Toowoomba's Bridge St facility, in March, who reported that Aveo management had "stated they planned to cut four registered nurses".

"The QNMU also viewed emails from Aveo management to staff regarding the proposed cuts," Ms Mohle said.

Ms Mohle said Aveo management wrote to the QNMU on July 24, confirming that the changes to registered nurses hours were based on their obligation to manage the Freedom Care Program funding pool.

She added that staff advised the QNMU that cuts would leave residents without a registered nurse overnight, seven days a week, and were due to take effect on July 30.

"Distressed Aveo staff contacted the QNMU to advise the cuts would leave aged care residents without a registered nurse overnight, seven nights a week. Staff stated Aveo management verbally advised them the proposed cuts would take effect on July 30," she added.

Residents became aware of the proposed changes on July 19 after it was leaked to them, according to chairwoman of the Bridge St Residents Committee Sue Seavers.

"I think the one way we've been badly treated is that we've been told nothing," Ms Seavers said.

"And the staff were told not to talk to us - what are we? Children? We're elderly people and we've paid quite substantially to be here - not that I'm throwing money in their face - but we chose to be here, and some people have transferred from other facilities because… they came here because they knew they were going to have the care as well."

A group of residents met on July 22, and wrote to a manager on July 23, stating what they believed had been proposed by Aveo and requesting clarification.

"If this is incorrect it is mainly due to the fact that the residents have been unable to ascertain the correct information, either from you or from the staff who were told not to discuss it with the residents," the letter, signed by 19 residents said.

Meanwhile, the QNMU was advised Aveo management told registered nurses at the facility that their contracted hours of work per fortnight would be significantly reduced.

"The QNMU was also advised Aveo management told staff the administration of potentially life-threatening medications would be handed to Personal Carers as part of the proposed changes," Ms Mohle said.

Ms Mohle said the QNMU met with Aveo staff and advised Aveo management in writing the cuts outlined would "contravene the Federal Government's Charter of Rights for Home Care that required care recipients had the right to 'participate in making decisions that affect him or her'."

She also said the QNMU advised Aveo the proposed changes detailed by staff would breach the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia Codes and Guidelines, and their failure to consult with affected staff would contravene the Nurses Award 2010.

Then, on July 26, Ms Mohle said Aveo verbally informed the QNMU the changes outlined by staff would not take place on July 30.

The Chronicle originally contacted Aveo on July 23 and was told "there have been no cuts in Registered Nurse shift hours, and that "the care services and staffing within all our Home Care Communities are adjusted periodically based on resident needs and their care plans which change regularly".

After contacting Aveo again on July 25, The Chronicle received a response on July 26 - the same day Ms Mohle said the company had contacted the QNMU advising the changes would not take place - denying any cuts were proposed and issuing a veiled threat of legal action "in the event that incorrect or misleading statements are reported in this story".

After receiving a final statement from the Queensland Nurses and Midwives Union, The Chronicle again contacted Aveo.

Aveo Group head of care Jason Eldering said Aveo delivered more than 500,000 hours of care and support to its 13,000 residents each year, in retirement communities, residential aged care facilities, or in Freedom Aged Care communities.

"The health and wellbeing of our residents remains the number one priority for Aveo and Freedom Aged Care," Mr Eldering said.

"Under Aveo's Freedom Aged Care model which operates on community care principles of consumer directed care, participating residents continue to live in their own home (unlike traditional aged care facilities) and designate and determine the specific care services they receive. ensuring they only receive and pay for the services they require. 

"Those services are delivered on a "no profit" basis. As part of those arrangements, a registered nurse is onsite 24/7 at the Freedom Aged Care communities in Toowoomba.

"This arrangement has been determined in accordance with the residents' assessed care needs and will not change.

"The operational roster for registered nurses and all care staff at Freedom Aged Care communities in Toowoomba is not static; it changes from time to time... but not so as to affect the registered nurse being onsite 24/7."

Ms Mohle said the QNMU will meet with Aveo, in support of members, in relation to the matter in coming weeks and will monitor conditions and rosters at the facility with great interest.

"The QNMU applauds the Toowoomba Chronicle's continued interest and reportage of conditions in aged care facilities. The Chronicle has and continues to report on the rights and conditions of elderly Toowoomba residents and those who care for them," she said.

"The QNMU is determined to continue to protect aged care residents and staff. The QNMU will not rest until safe staff levels in aged care are made federal law."