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Chief executive steps into caregiver's shoes.

South Canterbury District Health Board chief executive Chris Fleming has honoured a challenge put to him last year to walk in a caregiver's shoes for a day. In late March, he spent a day working as a caregiver at Elloughton Gardens in Timaru, an experience he found both rewarding and challenging, and one which gave him a different perspective on the work of caregivers.


At a joint NZNO/Service and Food Workers' Union forum last year, a caregiver challenged Fleming, saying he didn't really understand the nature of caregivers' work and suggesting he do it for a day.

"As the lead chief executive for the health of older people at DHBNZ level, I know the aged residential care workforce is a critical part of delivering services for the elderly but I didn't realty understand the work, to be honest. So I decided to take up the challenge," Fleming said.

He said he saw both the tough and positive sides of being a caregiver. "I walked in in the morning with some trepidation, but after just one day I experienced the rapport with residents and how much residents give back to staff is cool and surprised me. I learnt how physically challenging the work is with lifting, assisting residents, showering and the like. It would be pretty tough to be doing that day in, day out. Also, the emotional side would be draining, as staff get very attached to residents."

Asked if around $13 an hour reflected the value of the work, Fleming said pay was a significant issue and a challenge for the country. "Moving forward, matching an appropriate workforce with the demands of a growing elderly population will be a challenge at $13/hr. Maintaining a sustainable workforce, with the skills and numbers to meet the demand, will be fiscally challenging for the country."

Working at Elloughton Gardens, which has 30 rest-home and 38 hospital beds, Fleming saw the reality of an aging caregiving workforce. "The under-30s were not there. I worry about assuming the future workforce will have the same attitudes as the 40-, 50- and 60-year-olds working today. What we are going to do to get the future workforce is a problem we must face Up to."

Fleming said working as a caregiver for a day had given him a different perspective "rather than talking about things from a theoretical perspective. I wouldn't dare to suggest that after a day I really understand the work. I enjoyed it--I didn't think I would--but realise I only had to do it for a day."

Fleming gave up his $600-a-day salary to the Alzheimer Society's Cuppa for a Cause fundraiser, the charity suggested by Lalaine Priest, the caregiver he worked with.

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Title Annotation:SECTOR REPORTS
Publication:Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand
Geographic Code:8NEWZ
Date:May 1, 2010
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