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Help needed . . . Observatory Village clinical leader Kaycee Salmasan (left) and village manager Moira Kliegl are hoping more caregivers can be recruited at the aged care facility. PHOTO: RUBY HEYWARD

Labour shortages in the aged care sector are adding pressure to an already fragile health system.

And there are no compromises or shortcuts when delivering healthcare, Observatory Village manager Moira Kliegl says.

Like many other businesses in Waitaki, Observatory Village was struggling to find employees, Ms Kliegl said.

Several staff had left for ‘‘natural reasons’’ such as retirement, relocating to cities, or maternity leave, she said.

But the village was not experiencing its usual seasonal ‘‘pick-up’’.

Each year the village hosted trainee nurses between November and February, and when they moved on, migrant workers would fill the gaps — gaps that now lay empty because of strict Covid-19 border restrictions.

For now, the village had enough nurses to provide hospital-level care, but Ms Kliegl said there was in a real need for caregivers. As a result, the village had been unable to take new admissions since Christmas.

People were waiting in Oamaru Hospital to enter aged care.

‘‘It’s putting pressure on hospitals,’’ she said.

The village needed three to four caregivers, two nurses, and hospitality workers. Until these roles were filled, other staff, including management, were taking on hospitality and caregiver tasks to help ease the pressure, she said.

Presbyterian Support Otago chief executive officer Joanne Rowe echoed Ms Kliegl’s concerns.

Without registered nurses in aged care, there would be more older people in hospital competing for beds — something that was best avoided as new Covid-19 variants entered the country, Ms Rowe said.

The charitable trust had eight rest homes across Otago, and all of them were hit by the shortage — including Oamaru’s Iona Home and Hospital, Ms Rowe said.

Iona had been reasonably stable as Oamaru was not excessively expensive to live in and house prices were relatively low.

‘‘We have been lucky and have not had to close any units,’’ she said. The issue was complex as aged residential care facilities competed with district health boards for nurses, and barriers with immigration were significant, she said.

Each year the Otago Polytechnic ran competency assessment programmes for international qualified nurses (IQNs) to register as nurses in New Zealand.

Otago Polytechnic Nursing, Midwifery, Occupational Therapy and Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health College head Ian Crabtree said since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, the competency programme’s admissions had dropped significantly.

The college used to take up to 120 IQNs annually, but in 2020 it took about 50 and around 20 in 2021, Mr Crabtree said.

To help solve the issue, the college was working with aged residential care facilities in Otago and Southland and the Southern DHB to identify IQNs working as unregistered nurses and get them through the programme, he said.

The college also reduced its international fees by 50% for the aged care sector in Southland and Otago so facilities could support IQNs in completing the programme and bonding them into working for the facility.

Last November, it was announced that the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment would make 300 MIQ beds available for critical health and disability workers each month.

A Ministry of Health spokesman said since the pathway came into effect on November 1, 221 critical health and disability workers had been issued MIQ vouchers.

‘‘Some applicants have been declined due to not meeting the eligibility criteria, applying past the deadline, or have been able to access an MIQ voucher through the standard lobby process,’’ the spokesman said.

While this group of workers had been ‘‘undersubscribed’’, there had been a considerable increase in the number of applicants and the amount of vouchers issued was expected to increase, he said.

‘‘We acknowledge the importance of our workforce to the health system, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the need to reduce barriers for critical health and disability workers entering New Zealand.’’