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This aged care village is so desperate for staff they’re housing nurses in shipping containers

This aged care village is so desperate for staff they’re housing nurses in shipping containers

A housing crisis gripping New South Wales has prompted one aged care facility to bring in a shipping container and demountables to attract nurses who cannot find anywhere to live.   

Key points:

  • The Raleigh-Urunga Masonic Village has brought in a repurposed shipping container to house aged-care nurses
  • The Mid North Coast’s ongoing housing shortage is contributing to a skills shortage in low-paid sectors
  • In the Coffs Harbour region, rental vacancies are about 1 per cent or lower

For the Raleigh-Urunga Masonic Village on the outskirts of Bellingen on the Mid North Coast, it was a last-ditch solution to help house nurses who had travelled from overseas.

“We’ve managed to put some people into our retirement village units, they’ve rented some houses, purchased a couple of houses,” acting general manager Elizabeth Diebold said.

“But here in Raleigh, there’s just nothing available so they had to get more creative.”

Challenge in housing skilled staff

The repurposed shipping container houses one nurse and is fitted with a kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom.

a crane puts the shipping container home in place

The repurposed shipping container may be transferred to other RFBI facilities on a needs basis.(ABC Coffs Coast: Nick Parmeter)

The village has also brought in two tiny homes, or small demountable units, to house one nurse each from Nepal.

Mahee Wijewardhana from Sri Lanka is staying in the shipping container home, and said it had taken some getting used to. 

“It’s a new experience; this is the first time staying in a small home alone,” she said.

“[I’m] nice and comfortable.”

Ms Diebold said the facility had several programs in place designed to help attract skilled nurses from overseas due to local shortages.

But she said the housing situation was so dire, management had little choice but to think outside the box.

“We’ve got these programs set up and we’re managing to recruit staff, but in rural areas like Raleigh, for example, there’s no housing,” she said.

“It’s critical … we have to have staff — we have to have good skilled staff.”

Elizabeth Diebold stands in front of the Raleigh Urunga Masonic Village entrance

Elizabeth Diebold says management has had to think creatively when housing staff.(ABC Coffs Coast: Nick Parmeter)

Recent data from CoreLogic shows rental vacancy rates in the Coffs Harbour region remain roughly at or below 1 per cent.

The area was also one of the last in NSW to see its median housing price stop growing. 

It reflects a continuing downward trend of housing affordability and availability in the region. 

Ms Diebold said poor wages were the other key factor in the struggle to attract skilled aged care nurses in the region, creating the perfect ingredients for a major skills shortage. 

“They do work very, very hard for quite a low income,” she said. 

“[The elderly] deserve the best care, and it’s our workers who hold it all together.”

Nurses in front of tiny homes

Shajiya KC and Renu Thakuri live in tiny homes.(ABC Coffs Coast: Nick Parmeter)

Longer-term housing situation 

While Ms Wijewardhana will work towards getting her Australian driver’s licence, Shajiya KC and Renu Thakuri from Nepal do not drive.

“It’s very difficult if we move on,” Ms KC said. 

The nurses are currently able to stay in the homes for about three months.

Neither Ms KC or Ms Thakuri were sure if they would learn to drive, and expected that may limit their housing options in the long term. 

“If it’s nearby, any rental home, then we will see that one,” Ms KC said.  

Having only recently moved to the country, it was something Ms Wijewardhana was only beginning to think about now. 

“We settled here only one month ago, so maybe later.” 

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