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"The DHB is a significant drain on the aged residential care workforce," board acting strategy, primary and community executive director Rory Dowding told a board sub committee meeting yesterday.
"That is due to the number of people who work in aged residential care who have moved on to work for the DHB."
The board’s community and public health committee was debating a survey which reported almost two-thirds of Otago and Southland rest-homes and care facilities were below their required number of registered nurses, and that many months of attempts to recruit new staff had been fruitless.
The sector usually pays less than the board or primary care nursing, so in recent years many of its recruits have come from overseas, many of whom have only worked in the sector for a short time while gaining Nursing Council accreditation.
The survey reported the board, which itself is desperately recruiting nurses in order to meet safe staffing requirements, hired 33 of the 100 nurses to leave aged residential care facilities in the first six months of this year.
"One facility reported that they were supporting three nurses through the visa process and before they even commenced employment they were recruited by the SDHB."
Mr Dowding said the board could not decide to not employ aged residential care workers as that would be unfair to the nurse in question.
He said the board was not in a unique situation, and there were more than 1000 FTE vacancies in the sector nationwide.
"A number of people have been identified who are not in the workforce but have the right qualifications, and the SDHB has hired a workforce co-ordinator to try and get these people back working in this space."
Board chief executive Chris Fleming, who is the aged care sector lead for all DHBs, said he had written to all other chief executives asking they not poach staff from employers who had sponsored them into the country.
"If their visa has expired, then all is fair in love and war ... but we, along with other DHBs, were inadvertently supporting people to get their visas changed to reasons other than why they were in the country.
"It is a challenge though, because at the end of the day we are all facing significant challenges."