Rest home burn out due to short‑staffing

Chronic Fatigue Warning to Residential Care Facilities 

It is being widely reported that nurses and managers working in Residential Care Facilities around the country are short-staffed and are either already or near to experiencing burnout. This inaction on the part of the residential care facilities or government to step in could cost New Zealand professional trained, skilled talented nurse and medical staff. 

As reported by RNZ there have been 851 reports to the Ministry of Health this year by staff in residential care units of safety risks due to staffing numbers, drastically and overwhelmingly higher than this time in previous years. 

Residential Care Facilities need to act urgently to improve their workplaces. 

As determined in Attorney-General v Gilbert[1] harm and illness to an employee are not limited to “recognisable psychiatric injury” and employers are required to take steps reasonably practicable to avoid causing psychological harm to their employees. 

Leaving staff in unsafe environments where they are short-staffed, working excessive hours undertaking hard labour could be foreseeably viewed by the Employment Court as allowing employees to cause psychological harm through excessive stress, chronic fatigue and burnout. 

This is a sector-wide problem. Steps should be urgently taken by Residential Care facilities to make sure they are meeting their employment law and health and safety obligations. Employers are obliged to take all reasonable steps they could in all the circumstances to justify their actions. Inaction could be viewed as unjustifiable.

Our suggestion: 

Assess the situation, and make sure your facility has taken all reasonable and justifiable steps to address the staff shortages or stressful environments to ensure staff feel safe, are properly resourced and are not overloaded. In alternative New Zealand is likely to see a wave of cases eerily similar to the circumstances of Gilbert with significant compensatory sums awarded, or even worse more shortages in facilities for some of our most vulnerable due to skilled talented nurses leaving the profession entirely. 

If you are unsure of your rights and responsibilities, whether as an employer or employee, do not hesitate to contact BuckettLaw.

[1] [2002] 2 NZLR 342, [2002] 1 ERNZ 31 (CA) 

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