Racism is sadly alive and well in many of New Zealand’s residential aged care facilities.

A panel discussion at the NZACA conference revealed that aged care workers are often on the receiving end of insults from residents who have dragged racist attitudes with them from the past.

Panellist Andrew Joyce, manager of St Andrew’s Village in Auckland, gave examples that resonated with the audience.

“One of my workers was told by a resident that they were a sub-human species, lower than a monkey,” he said.

On another occasion a lady was admitted to their care facility but her husband said he didn’t want any “brown staff” looking after his wife.

“We refused the admission – we could meet the patient’s needs, but not the husband’s,” said Joyce.

But the panel agreed that refusing admission to residents was not the ultimate solution – a more proactive and systemic approach needed to be taken to help celebrate the diversity in our workplace.

By necessity, New Zealand rest homes are very diverse. Aged care facilities struggle to recruit Kiwi workers. As Joyce points out, the Ministry of Social Development keeps sending his facility New Zealanders who don’t want to work in aged care. Therefore, his facility, like many others, relies heavily on a migrant workforce.

Panellist Stephanie Leith from Iona Enliven Care agrees.

“If we didn’t have migrant nurses, we wouldn’t have a service. We’re sick of the churn. We’re sick of recruiting,” she said.

Fi McKay, Relationship Manager from Immigration NZ, believes nurses are not prepared for racist attitudes when they come to New Zealand. She says the tensions extend beyond the residents to among staff.

Upon talking to migrant nurses at Otago Polytech, McKay discovered that they didn’t like giving Kiwi workers instructions and said it was easier to just do the extra work themselves. Upon probing this issue, it transpired that the way instructions were delivered was often rude, due to language limitations. For example, “pick that up” would not go down well with most New Zealand caregivers.

As a result, McKay introduced role play and dialogue to nurse programmes and developed a hints and tips sheets that discussed how to use softeners in conversation and establish a personal connection with residents and other staff.

Panellist Professor Edwina Pio of Auckland University of Technology says aged care facilities could co-create programmes that involve all staff and the residents.

“We need to be proactive about these things,” she says, “We don’t want to be so PC we don’t surface issues that are difficult.”

She says it’s important that cultural training programmes incorporate all sides. Pio points out that often managers need to be educate too, as they have often been brought up with euro-centric views.

Stephanie Leith runs a successful Connecting Cultures programme at Iona.

“We have to give a bit of ourselves to build the relationship,” she says.

Once residents understand the circumstances of staff members, they are more likely to relate to them, Leith says. She gave the example of a resident gaining a deeper rapport with a Filipino nurse once the resident learned that the nurse had three children back home in the Philippines.

The panel agreed that it was imperative that facilities make time for programmes, like Connecting Cultures. Taking time to learn how to pronounce names, understanding regional differences within countries, trying food and other aspects of various cultures, are all worth spending time on.

McKay says facilities shouldn’t just rely on their internal resources but rather access and leverage the expertise of their communities. Local settlement networks are in each part of New Zealand and are an example of the support that rest homes can tap into.

Cross Cultural TransitioNZ is one such service. Directors Steve and Jean Morris have developed a sustainable approach to enhancing CQ (or cultural intelligence) Leadership in  organisations. Their programmes are ideal for aged care facilities looking at how to establish and communicate a shared purpose, develop strategies for managing a globally diverse workforce, and roll out relevant training and development.

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