Care centres need nurses with clinical and management experience as populace ages ONE INEVITABLE consequence of the fact that people in Hong Kong are living longer is that more services are needed to take care of the elderly. This means that community service centres and homes for the elderly must not only be equipped to help more people, but must also have enough qualified nurses. Dolly Leung Man-ying, senior home manager of the Haven of Hope Woo Ping Care & Attention Home, said nurses with clinical and management skills were in great demand. She explained that Hong Kong's population was ageing and therefore more senior citizens needed additional nursing care in community homes. 'In Hong Kong, social workers have generally been employed in supervisory positions in community-based elderly home services. But now, as more elderly people suffer from dementia and other long-term diseases, trained nursing officers are needed to monitor their condition and provide counselling,' she said. To help meet this need, the Woo Ping Care & Attention Home is expanding to take care of 240 people, up from the current 130, while a new care centre - Sister Annie Skau Nursing Home - has just opened. About 20 extra registered nurses will be hired to meet short-term needs. The Haven of Hope Christian Service will also open a new hospice next year, adding to the demand for registered nurses. New recruits will supervise or help run a floor, or unit, at one of the centres. They will also provide daily nursing care, counsel residents and handle administrative duties. Since the general pace of work was less hectic than in a hospital, Ms Leung said there were more opportunities to offer individual care and there was a greater degree of autonomy. 'Nurses in elderly homes may even have to decide about housekeeping and property management matters. This might involve deciding whether someone's health condition meant they should be sent to hospital, or just calling an electrician to fix a problem in the centre,' she said. Preference was given to registered nurses with several years' experience in areas such as managing diabetes, heart problems and renal disease, while recently qualified applicants were considered for junior supervisory positions. Ms Leung said the Haven of Hope looked for nurses with different types of personality. What united them was a belief in the organisation's mission of helping people in a 'caring, professional and progressive spirit so that the lives of those serving and being served are mutually enriched'. She said a lot of nursing graduates were hired by hospitals and other medical centres, which made it difficult to find enough registered nurses for other community services. Having worked in the profession for more than 30 years, Ms Leung pointed out that providing care services for the elderly required patience and acute observation skills. Also, anyone specialising in this area had to be aware of the importance of listening to people who wished to express their feelings when suffering a long-term illness. Ms Leung said that, although the Haven of Hope was a Christian organisation, religious beliefs were not a factor in recruitment decisions. 'As long as candidates agree with our mission of serving elderly people and the community, we don't mind if they are Christian or not.' However, by working in an environment which emphasised Christian values, it was hoped that employees would feel their lives were enriched, she said. The fringe benefits of working in elderly homes services might not compare with those offered by the Hospital Authority, but among the attractions were the greater opportunity to gain management experience and do meaningful work. The Haven of Hope has a comparatively high proportion of registered nurses in management positions with two senior nursing officers and five nursing officers among 22 registered nurses and 38 enrolled nurses. Ms Leung said that this demonstrated the organisation's emphasis on providing care for its clients. She added that there were regular opportunities for internal transfers between the different centres, allowing for the possibility of steady career development. On-the-job management training and subsidies were also made available to take external professional courses in gerontology and elderly care management. These formed an integral part of the action plan for staff development. Mature opportunities Because Hong Kong's population is ageing, more elderly people need full-time nursing care provided by community service centres. The pace of work in homes for the elderly and the range of responsibilities are different from hospitals, providing more opportunities for nurses to give individual care and attention. Community-based nursing jobs are especially suitable for those who like challenges and are prepared to handle a wide range of duties. By working in an organisation which offers care for the elderly, registered nurses can gain more management experience, have greater autonomy in nursing practices, and can plan for career development.