A shortage of nurses means elderly residents of a West Coast rest home are having to remain in temporary accommodation for longer than expected

Reefton seniors shunted out of their rest home at short notice won’t be coming home as expected next month, the West Coast District Health Board says.

The 10 elderly residents were moved to other care homes in Greymouth, Hokitika and Christchurch in February, with the DHB citing Covid concerns and a nursing shortage as reasons for the abrupt shift.

One has since died and another two are not expected to return to their home town.

The DHB’s general manager, Phil Wheble, says the remaining seven would not be able to go back to Reefton’s Ziman House in mid-June as hoped because efforts to recruit more nurses had so far failed.

“The reality is that recruiting into health care roles across New Zealand is challenging and more so for rural locations like the West Coast where the majority of facilities are currently recruiting due to workforce shortages.”

Coast rest homes are short of 14 registered nurses, and although the DHB has been supporting them with its own staff, larger private homes must take priority over Reefton, Wheble says.

“We need to get to the point where we’re not supporting those other homes but at times we’re struggling even to do that.”

Between three and five registered nurses must be recruited before the rest home can reopen.

Of five nurses who applied for the vacancies, the DHB managed to contact three; two had already found jobs elsewhere and the third failed to show up for an interview, Wheble says.

Shooting for the sky

But Reefton people say the DHB has shot itself in the foot by trying for two months to recruit rest-home nurses willing to multitask, be on-call to attend ambulance emergencies and work shifts in the hospital’s DHB-run general practice.

Graeme Neylon, a West Coast primary health organisation trustee who’s been representing Reefton concerns on a DHB working group, says that is hugely disappointing.

“It’s very frustrating. We were assured by Phil Wheble that they were just recruiting for Ziman House and the clinical lead, but that’s not what the ads were saying. Obviously, the DHB’s left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.”

Poor management by the DHB had also recently cost it a well qualified black South African nurse who resigned because the board failed to address her concerns about bullying and racism, according to Neylon.

Although the board initially cited nurse shortages and Covid as the reasons for closing Ziman House, it has since released a report criticising the standard of care at the home.

Wheble told media on Wednesday that the report did not reflect poor practice but rather the shortage of nursing staff at Ziman House.

But it has upset the rest home’s caregivers, who took pride in their work, Neylon says.

“Their reputations have been tarnished and they deserve an apology.”

Neylon says staffing shortages at Reefton have a lot to do with the DHB’s forcing nurses take on additional duties including on-call ambulance work that is part of an ACC-funded contract.

Amended ads on the DHB website call for nurses just for the rest home, Wheble says.

“We are using a generalist model, but what we’ve found with aged residential care is we really need to focus on it It’s a specialist area, and.at this point in time, it’s really about how we can get Ziman House open as soon as possible.”

Applicant went east

Neylon says the ads not only failed to attract any staff, they’ve cost the DHB a nurse who was waiting to start work in Reefton.

“We had an Indian nurse here who was about to bring her young family out, and my wife and I had set aside our rental house for them. But she gave up last week after hearing about the delays and went to work in Christchurch.”

Neylon is keeping the house vacant in the meantime to see if the DHB’s revised recruitment campaign works.

And Reefton businessman John Bougen has also offered a house for nursing staff, he says.

“It could be an attractive proposition for a nurse with a young family who needs a home, or an older nurse wanting a less stressful job in a quiet town.

“But I think we’ll be lucky to see our old people back by Christmas, knowing how long it takes to leave one job and start another and maybe change countries as well. It’s just such a disappointment.”

While Reefton waits to see if its much-loved rest home will survive, the DHB is ploughing ahead with renovations, replacing beds and furniture, installing hoists and other equipment needed for hospital-level care and revamping the bathrooms.

The makeover will be finished next month, it says , ready and waiting for occupants – and staff.

Made with the support of the Public Interest Journalism Fund

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