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"How would you feel if you didn't get your weekly shower?"—Nurse shortage hits home care sector

The capital region's nursing shortage means less help for the elderly, including fewer baths.

Image: Jyrki Lyytikkä / Yle

"What do I think…the situation is unbearable. There are no carers or substitutes. Vacant positions remain unfilled," said Jonna Hedström who runs home care services for the city of Kauniainen.

She said personnel flight was apparent before the pandemic, though the sector may have now have also lost workers to Covid tracing and vaccination positions.

The entire capital region is struggling to cope with nursing shortages in the home care sector. In Helsinki around ten percent of positions for home healthcare workers are unfilled, while some 10-15 percent of working nurses are currently away from their jobs.

This means that visits to elderly clients are often postponed or cancelled.

While Helsinki has said it ensures clients receive help with their daily hygiene and medicine, nurse visits for bathing may be postponed.

In Vantaa, Aila Halonen, a service manager for the city, said they were also having to skip wash days. She noted that both clients and workers were recovering from Covid, which means at least ten days off the job.

"We've struggled with recruitment for a long time,'' Halonen said, adding that Vantaa had 30 home health aide positions open at the moment.

The City of Espoo meanwhile said it was missing about a fifth of home health personnel, partially due to Covid, but also because of the overall difficulty in attracting workers to the sector.

Elderly isolated

"Isolation has meant many elderly are feeling down and have nothing to look forward to…I spoke with a man who said he had trouble finding the right words because he so rarely speaks with anyone," said Inger Östergård of the eldercare advocate group De sjukas väl ("For the benefit of the ill").

Östergård noted that home health aides usually help clients with baths once or twice per week.

"Imagine how you would feel if you got to take a shower once a week and then it's delayed by a week. How would that make you feel?" she said.

The cities of Helsinki and Vantaa have both issued statements calling on families to help out with daily tasks for their elderly loved ones.

But Östergård pointed out that many older people in Helsinki don't have any family nearby.

Staffing agency Seure, which often supplies emergency cover to municipalities, said the company had seen a spike in demand for home health aides.

Kaarina Liimatainen, an account manager at Seure, said many of those trained to work in the sector move on to other fields, with the salary level playing a big role in perceptions of the profession.