The Essence of Care: Versatility as an Adaptive Response to Challenges in the Delivery of Quality Aged Care by Personal Care Attendants

Anjum Naweed, Jana Stahlut, Valerie O’Keeffe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
41 Downloads (Pure)


Objective: The strategies adopted by personal care attendants (PCAs) to deliver quality care when faced with challenges potentially impacting clinical outcomes were assessed using phenomenological methods. Background: In Australia, recent outcry of unsatisfactory standards of care in residential facilities has instigated a national public inquiry. This study investigated how PCAs adapted to challenges in stressful and ambiguous everyday work scenarios to deliver quality care. Method: A phenomenological approach was used to obtain insights into PCAs’ experiences, perceptions, opinions, and decision processes for enacting care. Ten PCAs working in rural-based residential aged care were interviewed using a novel scenario construction task with thematic and co-occurrence network mapping applied to derive insights. Results: Seven themes were identified, revealing that participants formed close relationships with residents, influencing care provision but blurring personal boundaries. Key contextual factors in scenarios highlighted inadequate staffing and procedures, inadequate training, challenging residents, time poverty, and low support. Individually directed adaptive strategies were used to alleviate dissonance and maintain emotional resilience, including dynamic risk assessment involving rule breaking. Conclusion: The findings suggest that in negotiating care delivery, PCAs strive to optimize rule-based compliance with safety, efficiency, and individualized attention to provide “good enough” care with fluidity. Implications for policy and practice are considered. Application: Findings have implications for workforce development in the context of ever-increasing industry pressures. Findings identified challenging scenarios and role complexity, with decision-making occurring as a fluid and ongoing process across a flexible boundary of risk assessment influencing interactions between PCAs, registered nurses, and clients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-125
Number of pages17
JournalHuman Factors
Issue number1
Early online date28 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022


  • aging
  • communication and teamwork in healthcare
  • decision-making
  • qualitative methods
  • scenario invention task technique


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