At least 15 nursing homes are rejecting new admissions because the migrant nurses they have hired cannot enter the country.
They say it is deeply concerning that the government is not granting critical healthcare workers their own managed isolation and quarantine allowance (MIQ), while rooms reserved for critical construction workers have largely gone unused.
Out of an estimated 1000 nursing positions to fill across the country, more than 350 positions have been offered to migrant nurses who are trapped abroad.
Avatar Institute training coordinator Louise Cummings said she had obtained visas and began looking for flights, but was unable to get a place at MIQ.
“The flow of this is that we have nursing homes all over New Zealand that lack registered nurses. It’s a big problem. I got emails and phone calls from organizations across the country that are desperate to find registered nurses,” she said.
Cummings said those nursing homes regularly send out Section 31 notices, warning the Health Ministry that they have a senior health aide doing work that would normally be performed by a registered nurse and that could be a health risk and safety.
At Oceania Healthcare, which runs more than 40 nursing homes nationwide, general manager for nursing and clinical strategy Frances Hughes said staff were constantly looking for ways to change rosters and systems.
She said the workforce was roughly “50 to 60 percent” migrant workers.
“It may end up not being able to accept the admissions we want. We will always make sure our services are secure and that may mean that we have [fewer] people in our facilities, “he said.
The president of the Aged Care Association, Simon Wallace, knew of at least 15 nursing homes that had already stopped admitting new admissions.
“There are hundreds of beds where that is currently happening. And that is putting pressure on the public hospital system, occupying a bed in a public hospital that could be used by someone else,” he said.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) said that there were two ways in which elderly care workers had managed to enter MIQ quickly: by submitting an application for emergency reasons or by demonstrating that their work was urgent.
But the Association for Aging Care claimed that nurses had been trying those avenues and their applications had been rejected.
He has been petitioning the government for a separate MIQ facility, especially for critical healthcare workers, or a series of reserved rooms.
That kind of special allowance isn’t unheard of: 60 rooms have been reserved for critical construction workers since June.
However, according to written questions to Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, the Construction Sector Agreement did not use any in the first two months, and only 15 in August, and vacant rooms were made available to the general public to reserve.
Wallace said time is running out for nursing homes and nurses with job offers.
“With the demand for nurses around the world, there are other countries that they can go to. We hear that Canada and the UK, in particular, are countries that they will now go to,” he said.
“We are losing those nurses and missing the opportunity to fill those gaps that we so desperately need to fill here in New Zealand.”
Wallace said it was impressive that the pleas were not recognized, while the government made sweeping changes to the MIQ reserve system.
MBIE said there were a number of factors the government needed to balance when considering which groups to allocate MIQ spaces to, including their humanitarian, social and economic goals.