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To hold their hand

This beautiful blog was put together by one of our delegates and Shout Out member leaders, Angela Stratton, a Registered Nurse working in aged care. We’re publishing it as part of what will be a series on the impact of health underfunding in different care settings around New Zealand. 

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One of the special privileges of my work is to be with people when they’re dying. It’s a time when if I do my job well and the doctor has charted any necessary medication, someone can take their last breath relaxed, with less pain or fear.

What I find difficult, is when someone is dying and they are scared and want a hand to hold but I have to go and answer another call bell. Or when a grieving family member breaks down and needs to talk, but I can’t give them as much time as I’d like to, because I need to go and look after others.

Nurses working in aged care all want to do the best for their patients. But with people living longer and their carers growing older too, we simply need more staff. For that, we need more funding from the Government. The Government funds care for older people just like other parts of our public health system.  In aged care our role is special because we also help ease the very last days of a long life. This all part of the health journey for patients and their families which deserves proper funding, dignity and respect.

In Whanganui we have an aging population. Some say we are living longer but death will come to all of us, and I feel it’s a human right not to die alone. When a person has nobody else to hold their hand at the end, I hope there’s a nurse beside them.

 


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Caregivers, we’re worth it!

Tammie Bunt is a caregiver who wants all her colleagues to know they are worth $26 an hour. She says it’s about time we know our worth and get it.

Film-Colour-162Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, our population is aging, and that means a greater need for caregivers, health care assistants and nurses in both the residential and home-based aged care sector.

The women (and it mostly is women) who look after our elders in the aged care sector are devalued and underpaid, and it’s been that way forever. Because they are women, and “women’s work” has traditionally been seen by society as somehow worth less than men’s. Ridiculous, right!?

Talking to many caregivers and health care assistants and they will tell you they don’t come in to the industry for money. People get into it because they are caring and compassionate people who want to make a difference in people’s lives. It doesn’t mean they should be paid less!

Today it appears the average qualification in caregiving is only worth about 10 cents depending on who you’re working for. Most caregivers are earning the minimum wage or just above it, even after they have done their aged care qualifications.

In 2012 Kristine Bartlett stepped up in a way no one else had in the industry. She’s a caregiver with over 20 years’ experience and she’s still only earning just above the minimum wage. Kristine and her union, the Service and Food Workers Union (now E tū) took on the big guns to do something about valuing caregivers and the role they play in the community. She believes we should be recognised financially, that the thanks we get is lovely but not enough.

NZNO joined the case too and one of the discussions they had was about how much caregivers should get paid. Comparisons have been made to other male dominated professions and how the Equal Pay Act isn’t working the way it was intended. There were articles stating caregivers were worth $26 an hour. I think that’s fair but many of my colleagues cannot believe they are worth $26 – it seems like so much money!

74464_494373352974_569252974_6879867_8118614_nWe are worth that! Why are we saying to ourselves that we aren’t? Think about it…

  • We gently listen to everything a person wants to say as their last hours take hold. We hold the hand of a person whose last breath is only seconds away.
  • We help our residents find some purpose to get through today… whether it’s via an activity or simply just getting out of bed to face the day.
  • We make sure each person has clean clothing on and that they are appropriately dressed. We assist them with their continence needs.
  • We are warriors for their safety by making sure they are safe in their surroundings.
  • We’re highly qualified.
  • And also, we give up many of our weekends for our residents. We miss our kids’ sporting events, family birthdays and other social events because our clients’ needs are not 4 hours a day. They need us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

I am relatively new in the industry and was somewhat dumped into the job due to personal circumstances two years ago. I came from a market research background and was paid well better there, sitting in front of a computer using a virtual program with only buttons to click. I then went into the cleaning business and ended up on far more for that than I am in my current position. My shock at how undervalued people who work in the aged care sector is was flabbergasting!

We have heard all the excuses, from the Government and the big names in the aged care industry, “We don’t get enough funding”, “We don’t get a lot of return from aged care”, “We can’t afford it” and on and on… It’s time for the excuses to stop and the action to happen.

I think the Government needs to get on with it!

And the other thing that needs to happen starts with us.

We do an important job, we have qualifications, we love and care for our clients and we are worth $26 an hour! Believe it sisters.


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Trading places, part III

Joys and Perils of Caregiving

We are re-blogging this article by Jan Logie with her kind permission.

It was a real joy and privilege to be able to do a “job swap”, organised by the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, with caregiver Dilani Perera. You can read about it here but I just want to share a personal view of it and a couple of stories that residents told me.

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I’ve never been a paid caregiver. My primary memory until this experience was as a child singing carols and visiting at the old folks homes in Invercargill (yes I was that kind of child). I can still remember the large empty room with the edges full of old people sitting and staring out from their immobile chairs. I never associated those old people with any possible future of my own but I was still a bit scared and horrified by the vulnerability and a terrible aching stasis.

So it was really wonderful to spend some time with Dilani who is so very generous, warm and loves caring for people. Her favourite part of the job is helping people with the most intimate tasks. I’m sure it’s not because those jobs are the most fun but rather because it means so much to the residents to have someone they trust.

When I went back on National Caregivers Day, one of the residents Sylvie read a poem to the caregivers. It brought a tear to my eye. I can’t remember it all but the last line was, roughly, ‘if I was to scatter roses at your feet in gratitude, I would need your help.’ When I spoke to Sylvie afterwards she reinforced this saying that she really doesn’t have the words to describe what it is like to be so dependent.

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I spoke to another resident Thomas, who had been given two days to live about a year ago but was pushing on. From our chat I learnt that he had previously been a senior public servant and was still absolutely engaged in what was happening politically in New Zealand. We had a really good chat about the state of our nation.

The whole team at Enliven, is a wonderfully multicultural team of staff originating from many continents. Thomas indeed commented on this and said how wonderful it was to live in a place where you really felt the world was getting on. I think he described it as a functional United Nations. How wonderful is that.

He read a letter of thanks to the caregivers, and then needed rescuing while trying to return to his seat as his legs stopped working. It was impressive to watch the caregiver work together to avert any accident and ensure Thomas was able to recover calmly.

My brain resists truly understanding what it must be like to have lived a full life having grown into yourself and then find yourself so completely dependent on strangers. Kindness surely has never been more important. If your caregiver is inattentive or grumpy, you could end up physically hurt or maybe even worse, stuck in a place of complete misery.

These caregivers are paid the bare minimum wage and it would be very easy for them to be grumpy and resentful. It is a testament to the good of people that after 16 years Dilani and others are still fully engaged and focused on caring for their “extended family”. They bloody well deserve to be paid and valued a whole lot more than they are now.


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Trading places, part II

 

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Yesterday I went to Parliament with a couple of lovely colleagues and a couple of awesome caregiver delegates.

We had a plan: to share our stories with a group of MPs, to hear about an MP’s work life and to get a commitment from them to help us achieve equal pay.

Janine works at a Harbourview in Papakowhai. She’s got 17 years’ experience as a caregiver and she earns $17 an hour. Janine joked about that being a dollar a year – we all laughed with her – but it’s actually not that funny. I guess when you’re being paid so little, black humour is a tool to get you through the week.

Dilani works at Cashmere Home in Johnsonville. Her shift yesterday started at 5am. By the time we got to Parliament at 12.30pm she was pretty tired. Dilani tells it like it is, when we asked her what she thought MPs actually did, she cracked up. “They sit in flash seats and yell at each other!” Later on we went to “Question Time” and discovered she was exactly right – for that bit of their job, at least.

Going to Parliament and visiting members of Parliament is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many New Zealanders and a really big deal. Neither Dilani nor Janine were phased in the least; they both knew what they wanted to say to MPs and what they wanted to know. They were confident in themselves and able to talk eloquently about both their working lives as caregivers and issues in the aged care sector generally.

We went through security (just like at an airport) and waited for our Labour Party host on big leather couches in the Beehive. Matt from Kris Faafoi’s office met us and escorted us through to Parliament House and up the antique lift to the 3rd floor.

We did the usual hand-shaking, smiling and shuffling around – Who should sit where? What’s the best angle for taking photos? Yes, I’d love a glass of water, thanks.

We ended up with Janine and Dilani sitting on either side of MP David Clark, which was perfect. David, Dilani and Janine chatted away like they’d known each other for years.

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Another couple of MPs, Kris Faafoi and Jenny Salesi raced back from their respective Select Committee duties and joined us soon after that.

The conversation ranged widely. From comparing pay and conditions of the two different roles to traversing issues around training, especially the lack of training for the kind of palliative care that happens much more often now in residential aged care.

As we left the office to go to our next appointment in Bowen House Deilani and Janine commented on the authenticity of the meeting. They felt like something really meaningful had happened in the room. I guess they noticed because it wasn’t what they had expected. We were all, MPs and caregivers alike, able to be ourselves, warm and human. I believe that when we take the time to “get” each other, that’s how change and progress happens.

 

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Jessie from Jan Logie’s office came to meet us at the leather couches to take us through the Beehive, underneath the street and then back up into Bowen House. I suppose if you work there you get used to it all but for us it was an eye-opener! The art! The corridors! The people walking swiftly and purposefully!

The Green’s office didn’t seem to have that frantic vibe – we were greeted warmly by three women MPs, who had arranged a lovely kai for us.

Dilani and Jan had already made a connection earlier in the week and it showed. They picked up their conversation where they’d left off and Dilani invited Jan to their Caregiver Week celebration at Cashmere.

MP Catherine Delahunty spoke movingly of the difference caregivers had made to her family as they went through the long farewell to a loved one with dementia. She said, “We didn’t need those skills because you have them. You should be paid properly for them.” She also said, “Bankers, no! Caregivers, yes!” Her statement clearly resonated with the caregivers.

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MP Julie Anne Genter shared her diary with us and I think we were all surprised at how jam-packed an ordinary MPs day is. Jenn asked Janine and Dilani afterwards whether they would want an MP’s job. It took less than a quarter of a second for them both to exclaim, “NO WAY!” Dilani said she loves being a caregiver, and she’d love to be paid fairly as well.

At ten to two the bells started ringing and the MPs jumped up, wished us a swift but warm farewell and departed for the House. They called, “Stay and finish the food!” So we did. And had a coffee and a debrief.

We all had smiles on our faces, and ready laughter. Making a difference doesn’t need to be dreary and formal. We made a difference yesterday and it was awesome!

We’re part of a movement for equality and we were all proud to add our contribution yesterday. When Dan dropped us back at work I really wanted to give everyone a hug (but I didn’t, because I’m not that kind of person).
By Liz Robinson, NZNO Communications Adviser.


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Trading places, part I

Caregiver’s week happens every year on the third week of March. It was started by members in NZNO working with older people, to celebrate the work of caregivers, their importance in the lives of families, and to the whole nursing team.

This year, caregivers’ work is in the news, as the Government negotiates with the unions and employers on a settlement for caregivers’ pay, after Kristine Bartlett’s equal pay win in court. We know that caregiver’s work is undervalued- but how well do the people making decisions really understand what carers do? MPs might get paid a lot more than our members, but if they had to do carer’s jobs, would they shape up? We decided to find out.

We invited all the parties with Wellington-based MPs to send an MP along to a real aged care facility, and spend a couple of hours ‘trading places’ with a caregiver. The Labour Party and the Greens agreed to give it a go. Unfortunately Kris Faafoi was unwell on the day, so Jan Logie was the extra pair of hands for lunch service at Cashmere home in Johnsonville.

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The atmosphere at Cashmere home was lovely and calm. The residents in the lunchroom were happy, relaxed, and well attended by all the staff, despite their very different needs. After Jan was done serving, she sat for lunch with a table of chatty residents. Margaret was visiting her husband John, just like she has every day since his stroke. “He never came home from the hospital. He went straight into care…. I wouldn’t have been able to cope at home.” John and Margaret lived a very full life and are still interested in current affairs like caregiver pay and the union movement. The other night they went out, with the help of staff, to a classical concert. They chose Cashmere because of the positive feel, only possible because of the constant attention of the carers. Their care for John has allowed Margaret to not worry so much and keep her own independence.

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After lunch, Jan helped clean up, and move resident Therese from the lunchroom to the lounge in her chair. Therese likes to be over by the window and the two brightly coloured pet birds. Jan struggled to steer the big armchair by herself, and nearly got caught on a doorframe! Luckily Therese didn’t mind, and NZNO delegate Dilani came to the rescue. Jan joked that it would be her exercise for the day! She spent the whole time she was helping talking and listening intently to residents, and apart from the one break at lunch, she was walking around non-stop.

Jan and Dilani sat down afterwards for a chat about how it all went.

 

Next edition- The caregivers go to parliament, and we find out what they think about MPs.

By NZNO Campaigns Adviser, Jenn Lawless.


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A visit to MP Jackie Dean

From left: Robyn Hayes, Jackie Dean and Jo Wibrow

NZNO organiser Simone Montgomery and delegates aged care delegates Robyn Hayes and Jo Wibrow visited MP Jackie Dean at her electorate office yesterday. They knew it was the day before Equal Pay Day – the day women in New Zealand start working for free – and were hoping Jackie would sign our Equal Pay pledge. Here’s Simone’s account of the visit:

I met up with a slightly nervous Jo and Robyn for a quick fortifying shot of caffeine, before we met with Jackie Dean the National MP for Waitaki, to invite her to sign the Equal pay pledge. We visited Jackie in her very blue office, she was very personable and welcomed the delegate’s presentation.

Jo wrote a fantastic speech outlining that she has worked as a caregiver for the past ten years, how much she loves the job and works very hard caring for her residents at their end of their life. Jo outlined the sorts of duties she preformed and the emotional toll it can take on you when you constantly loose residents that you have become attached too.

Jackie listened carefully to Jo’s speech and the questions that Jo asked of her. Jo asked, ‘who will be there to look after you?’ ‘Do you agree that the Equal Pay campaign is important for low paid caregivers?’ and ‘Would you please sign the pledge as a show of support for Equal Pay?’

Jackie absolutely agrees with the equal pay principal and totally endorses the Equal Pay Campaign. She also acknowledged that she was in a privileged position where her job does enjoy pay equity.

Jackie shared with us that when she was a student in Palmerston North, she did work as a caregiver and felt very empathetic and understood the nature of the job and that she does think about the question Jo asked, who will be there for her when it’s her turn in an Aged Care Facility.

She did however applaud the manner in which this campaign is being run with no ‘argy bargy’ and harsh actions and felt that this was getting the message out in a very constructive manner. Jackie went on to discuss the fact that there has been significant improvements to the mileage payments for home based caregivers and that all these gains push the door open for further improvements in remuneration for all caregivers.

Jo and Robyn discussed with Jackie their personal situations and that they both do not stay in the job not for the money, but for the love of the residents.  They told Jackie what their hourly rates were, the responsibilities they held and that there it is essentially a ‘dead end’ job, ie it does not progress into being an EN or RN. Jo mentioned about a caregiver at Iona that had started when she left school at the age of fifteen and was still there forty years later and she is not paid fairly for her experience and skills.

Overall, Jo and Robyn gave a fantastic and heartfelt presentation to Jackie, but we failed in our goal of getting the pledge signed. However Jackie did keep the pledge and promised to find out if she could sign it and to ring Jo back next week. Here’s hoping.

Update 11 November – we’ve just heard that Jackie Dean has signed the pledge! Great work Jo and Robyn – it really does work when we tell our stories with honesty and passion.


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A word from the Mayor of Wellington

Kilmarnock HouseI visited Kilmarnock Heights Rest Home during Caregiver’s Week last month to do my part to recognise the contribution of this work force. I met some wonderful people and enjoyed having the opportunity to speak with the carers, managers and union representatives. The delicious morning tea was very pleasant and made me glad I had biked there!

Caregiving is one of the hardest jobs there is. You have to be kind, compassionate and efficient all at the same time. I wanted to take the opportunity to tell the caregivers gathered at Kilmarnock in Wellington that I admired them, and appreciated the work they do. Their cultural diversity is a strength for the Capital.

Caregivers have the challenge of supporting our most vulnerable citizens when they are happy, sad, scared, angry or lonely. It is up to the staff to turn a Rest Home into a real home, and that is a huge responsibility.

Caregiving is a predominately female workforce, at 93 percent. The battle for wages that reflect the value of the job caregivers do is ongoing.

As I am sure you are all aware, the Wellington City Council supports the Living Wage. In 2013 Wellington City Council increased the wages of our lowest paid employees including parking wardens and lifeguards. This has made a significant difference to the lives of our staff and their families.

None of us can be 100 percent certain what the future holds for us or our family members. Let’s all show our appreciation and support of those in the caregiving industry.

Ngā mihi mahana ki a koutou katoa.

Caregivers blog entry JR Mayor Wade-Brown

Celia Wade-Brown
Mayor of Wellington