When the Covid-19 virus started to spread in March 2020, nurses were overworked without rest while new ones were hired to accommodate the rising numbers of patients in government hospitals.
However, not many are aware that this has an indirect impact on senior citizens, especially those who are living in care centres and old folk homes.
During the pandemic, some senior citizens had to battle with the virus, including those living in care homes. Some were placed under quarantine or sent to hospital for treatment. Sadly, most did not survive.
Centres had to deal with not only the spread of the virus and the prevention of possible outbreaks in their premise, but also a shortage of nurses to care for the residents.
“We need about 6,000 caregivers and nurses in all of our centres nationwide,” said Association for Residential Aged Care Operators of Malaysia (Agecope) president Delren T. Douglas.
Delren said prior to enforcement of the MCO in March 2020, (graduate) nurses were put on standby or “pending replacement” status while waiting for an opening or position at a government hospital.
The “pending replacement” period is between six months and a year, and once there are places available, nurses would get to work in a hospital.
“It’s the norm. This is one of the reasons the government decided to close down nursing colleges, as there were a high number of nurses waiting for placement in government hospitals,” explained Delren.
While waiting for placement, (graduate) nurses would work with nursing homes and old folk centres, and that solved the problem of a lack of nurses at such facilities.
When the nurses get employed in a hospital, a new batch of graduate nurses would replace them.
But this was not the case when Covid struck two years ago.
There was a rise in the number of infected patients at hospitals, and “pending placement” nurses were sent to work at hospitals.
Delren said some others were offered jobs on a contract basis, leaving many centres without any nurses during the two-year MCO period.
The shortage is still felt even today.
“We have a lack of nurses nationwide. Currently, less than 3,000 nurses graduate in a year and the bulk of them are taken by hospitals overseas, while the remaining are hired by private hospitals,” he said.
At times, hospitals abroad sponsor the education or give scholarships to the nurses, which means they are bound.
The number of the remaining graduates is not sufficient to fill the void at assisted living centres for the aged.
Referring to statistics that Malaysians aged 60 and above would reach 15.3% of the population by 2030, Delren said we should not wait until then to employ the required number of nurses.
Mindful of the fact that there are only eight years before 2030, Delren proposed reopening nursing colleges to resolve the shortage.
“Closing down nursing colleges makes it difficult for students to study the course,” said Delren, who operates Pusat Jagaan Orang Tua dan OKU Dzenith Homes.
He also said nursing course entry requirements were increased from three SPM credits to five.
“If a student has five credits, they would normally opt for other courses and not nursing,” he said, adding that there was a lack of caregivers as well.
Delren suggested that in the meantime, the government allow unemployed locals to work in the nursing home sector or subsidise training programmes offered by colleges or universities to allow them to study.
Although there are short courses for caregivers, there is currently no proper standardised syllabus for caregivers nationwide and such courses are expensive for unemployed or school dropouts.
He said as the position falls under the category of “dirty” and “demanding” jobs, locals would not want to do it.
Even if they do join, they would most likely be school drop-outs with no proper training.
“Not many people have the patience to take care of other people’s parents in nursing homes,” he said, and suggested allowing foreign workers to be hired for a stipulated period, with a working permit of one of two years given just to fill the gap until a new batch of nurses graduate.
Delren said right now, no permits are given to foreign workers to work at homes for senior citizens or any care centre.
According to him, some owners of such facilities have resorted to merging two care centres into one due to the lack of adequate staff such as nurses or caregivers, while others had to serve as workers at their own centres to ease the situation. The Sun