Anna Zhang is a registered nurse who works as service manager at Uniting Illowra Aged Care Home in Waverley in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs. She’s been in aged care for 14 years. Having arrived as an international student in 2006 from Guangdong in China, Anna loves helping others and has dedicated her life to working in aged care. “To me, help is about what you can do – what assistance is needed – to make people feel better,” says Anna. “It’s not something you just know – you can’t just do it. For our residents, we always need to think about how to do it in a better way to maintain their quality of life.”
6.45am: Balancing a young family with the demands of looking after others is always a challenge. Still, this tight-knit family – Anna, husband Peter and six-year-old Jasper and four-year-old Justin – sits down to breakfast every morning to start their day and then say goodbye before Anna starts her day.
7am: During the hour-long drive to work, Anna listens closely to news and health updates to ensure she is across anything that may affect her role in aged care. She says she and other Uniting managers have learned lessons from those aged-care facilities in Sydney where residents died from COVID-19. “We realised what we had to do better to make sure everybody is safe.”
8am: The new normal for Anna and her staff is a morning temperature check. Before entering the home, staff and visitors must be checked and complete a detailed questionnaire on how they feel and where they’ve been. This is to help protect the home’s 24 staff and 42 residents, who range in age from 65 to 101.
8.30am: Anna does the rounds, taking the time to check in with residents one-on-one. “One of my residents told me: ‘Anna, since you’ve come, our lives are improving and we’re getting better and better. Thank you so much.’ It made me feel so happy, so good.”
11am: Anna’s ‘to do’ list since the pandemic hit includes planning resident activities, managing strictly controlled family visits and ensuring the emotional wellbeing of her staff.
“When I was a nursing student, the first time a resident I had a good relationship with passed away, I couldn’t control myself,” she says. “I went home and cried for half an hour. I need to talk to staff to make sure they’re are emotionally OK – if they need my support.”
2pm: By early afternoon, Anna focuses her attention on informing loved ones on the welfare of the residents. During the pandemic, only residents whose health is deteriorating are permitted to have visitors.
4pm: Anna visits residents to discuss and listen to their specific needs. “At the aged-care home, people put their parents in our hands. As I can’t look after my father, I can help someone look after their father and work with them with all our heart, and make sure their safety and quality of life are maintained.”
5pm: After nine hours of helping and caring for others, Anna’s workday is complete, but the residents are never far from her mind. After helping her own kids with homework, Anna will often spend more hours reading and preparing for the week ahead. “I don’t mind doing extra work at home,” she says. “I want to ensure the quality of our workplace.”
Anna says one of her greatest inspirations is her father, who died suddenly of a heart attack in China while she was studying in Sydney. He was just 58. “I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye – my heart was broken,” says Anna. “I never had the chance to look after my father when he got old.
“I can’t move from aged care. It’s my life. It doesn’t matter where I go, I’ll always be in the aged-care industry. I can’t leave.”