Nurse shortage hurts care centers

WHEN The Covid-19 virus began to spread in March 2020, nurses were overwhelmed with work without rest, and new ones were hired to accommodate the growing number of patients in public hospitals.

However, few people know that this has an indirect effect on older people, especially those living in nursing centers and nursing homes.

During the pandemic, some older people have had to fight the virus, including those living in nursing homes. Some have been quarantined or sent to hospital for treatment. Unfortunately, most did not survive.

The centers had to deal not only with the spread of the virus and the prevention of possible outbreaks in their premises, but also with the lack of nurses to care for the residents.

“We need about 6,000 carers and nurses across all of our centers across the country,” said Delren T. Douglas, president of the Association of Nursing Care Operators of Malaysia (Agecope).

Delren said that prior to the MCO going into effect in March 2020, (registered) nurses were placed on standby or “waiting to be replaced” pending an opening or position at a public hospital.

The “replacement waiting” period ranges from six months to a year, and as soon as there are available places, nurses will start working in the hospital.

“This is the norm. This is one of the reasons why the government decided to close nursing colleges as a large number of nurses were waiting to be placed in public hospitals,” Delren explained.

While waiting for placement, nurses (graduates) worked with nursing homes and old folklore centers, and this solved the problem of a shortage of nurses in such institutions.

When the nurses work in the hospital, they will be replaced by a new batch of registered nurses.

But that wasn’t the case when Covid hit two years ago.

In hospitals, the number of infected patients has increased, and nurses “waiting for placement” have been sent to work in hospitals.

Delren said some others were offered contract work, leaving many centers without nurses during the two-year MCO period.

The shortage is still felt today.

“We don’t have enough nurses across the country. Currently, less than 3,000 nurses are graduating a year, and most of them are accepted by hospitals abroad, while the rest are hired by private hospitals,” he said.

Sometimes hospitals abroad sponsor training or give nurses stipends, which means they are under obligation.

The number of graduates left is not enough to fill the void in nursing centers.

Citing statistics that Malaysians aged 60 and over will reach 15.3% of the population by 2030, Delren said we should not wait until then to hire the required number of nurses.

With only eight years left until 2030, Delren proposed reopening nursing colleges to address the shortage.

“The closure of nursing colleges makes it difficult for students to take the course,” said Delren, manager of Pusat Jagaan Orang Tua and OKU Dzenith Homes.

He also said that the entry requirements for nursing courses have been increased from three SPM credits to five.

“If a student has five credits, they tend to choose other courses than nursing,” he said, adding that there is also a shortage of carers.

Delren suggested that, in the meantime, the government should allow unemployed locals to work in the nursing home sector, or subsidize training programs offered by colleges or universities to allow them to study.

While there are short courses for caregivers, there is currently no proper standardized caregiver curriculum across the country and such courses are costly for the unemployed or school dropouts.

Since the position falls under the category of “dirty” and “demanding” jobs, he said, the locals won’t want to do it.

Even if they join, they are more likely to drop out of school without proper preparation.

“Not many people have the patience to take care of foreign parents in nursing homes,” he said, and suggested allowing foreign workers to be hired for a set period, with a one or two year work permit issued just to fill the gap. before the release of a new batch of nurses.

Delren said there are currently no permits for foreign workers to work in senior homes or any care centers.

According to him, some owners of such institutions resort to merging two centers into one due to a lack of appropriate staff, such as nurses or nurses, while others have to work in their centers to alleviate the situation.