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Distressed, detached, devalued and determined: aged care workers' experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-21, 13:36 authored by Laura Tierney, Kathleen DohertyKathleen Doherty, Kate-Ellen ElliottKate-Ellen Elliott

Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has had widespread impacts on the community and has demanded a rapid response from the aged care sector. System changes for infection control have been required including the use of personal protective equipment, lockdowns, visitor restrictions and changes to activities within aged care facilities. Even prior to COVID-19, the high physical and emotional demands of aged care work were recognised.

Objective: This study sought to understand aged care workers' experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods: Using a pragmatic paradigm qualitative data about work experiences during COVID-19 was collected from people employed in different aged care organisations in a range of aged care roles and settings from multiple Australian states. Data was collected using focus groups and interviews conducted online between August-October 2020. Inductive thematic analysis was used to identify key themes in the data.

Results: Participants included 15 people working across a range of aged care roles including clinical, care and management staff and across both residential and community settings. Five themes were identified which characterised aged care workers thoughts about their jobs during the pandemic. These included intensified procedures and emotional demands, feeling undervalued and detached from the frontline, exposure of existing system deficiencies, recognising teamwork and increased confidence in technology.

Conclusion: Reflecting on aged care workers' experiences of COVID-19 highlights the need to better support workers and acknowledge their important role in caring for older Australians. This includes at an organisational level by providing supportive environments and access to online resources as well as at the community and policy level by recognising aged care workers as frontline workers. The COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted existing systemic issues in the aged care sector that need to be addressed for the provision of quality aged care in Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic and into the future.


National Health & Medical Research Council


Publication title

Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing








Wicking Dementia Research Education Centre


Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation

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© 2022 Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation. All rights reserved

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