Doris Hamilton manages the Clinical Care Division at Otway Health and Community Service. It is situated in the picturesque hamlet of Apollo Bay on Victoria’s spectacular Great Ocean Road.
The multi-purpose service is located between steep green hills and the Southern Ocean three hours southwest of Melbourne, and provides a mix of health, community and aged care services.
Otway Health provides a diverse range of health and community services requiring a variety of professional skills and resources, as Doris explains:
"We have inpatient services; we have community nursing; we have all forms of aged care and we provide childcare. There are two doctors associated with the centre and the Ambulance Service is just next door. It’s a fantastically diverse organisation which really provides a whole of lifespan service. So there’s demand for a wide variety of skills. And that’s where our problems began."
Overseas health professionals play an important role in filling long-term nursing vacancies and continuing the provision of high quality health care services in the region. Doris’s team of almost fifty staff in the clinical and catering divisions now includes a number of overseas trained nurses who have migrated from the Philippines, India, China, the United Kingdom and Mauritius.
Despite the beautiful surrounds and friendly community, Otway Health and Community Service experience ongoing challenges in attracting nursing staff.
Doris became increasingly frustrated with the difficulties she faced recruiting staff for the variety of roles needed to sustain such a diverse, community-based service, using standard recruiting tools.
This changed when Doris received a letter from a nurse who had come to Australia via China. While there was ample room for him to join the team, Doris quickly realised that employing a skilled migrant was more complex than the local recruitment process.
Doris initially used the 457 visa to employ her skilled migrants because she found that the process was quicker and enabled a skilled migrant to work for up to four years. But employment continuity was also an important consideration, and Doris now accesses the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (RSMS), a permanent residency visa subclass which requires migrants to commit to their sponsoring employer for two years.
Since adding skilled migration into the workforce planning strategy of Otway Health and Community Services and for the first time since commencing her current role, Doris now has a full staff for the facility.
"Our experience with skilled migrants has been an extremely positive one. And our existing staff find our new arrivals to be so bright and happy and skilled and friendly and hardworking. They are like a breath of fresh air.
"I now have six full time nurses, which means that other people can take holidays. Our sick leave has also been reduced dramatically and we don’t work as short-staffed as we did. It’s just been a revelation. It’s transformed our organisation.
"Without skilled migrants, we would not be able to deliver such high quality Primary Care in Apollo Bay.
"Our entire division one nursing staff on some days can be skilled migrants and that makes me very proud. What on earth would I have done if we didn’t have them?" Doris said.
"Now that we’ve got our recruitment strategy working really well we are starting to think of ways of retaining our staff. We know that some of them, when they get their permanent residency, will want to move on and see a bit of Australia. But what I really hope is that at least some will stay with us for a lot longer.
"We’ve learnt along the way some really useful things we can do to help our newly arrived staff settle into their roles, their new lives, and into the local community.
"As a matter of process, we help out new staff with the basics, such as accommodation arrangements and an orientation and education program that includes rotations in community nursing and advanced life support education.
"But my staff go above and beyond to make new staff feel welcome and respected. For example, opening their own homes for temporary accommodation, creating social engagement opportunities and avenues for finding cheap or gifted furniture and supplies. Our new staff tell us that this makes all the difference.
"In the future, we’d like to trial some new settlement support initiatives such as recreational days with other skilled migrants in the region."
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