Nursing service in Berlin: "We are the only social contact of the day"

Millions of people in Germany are dependent on care.

Nursing service in Berlin: "We are the only social contact of the day"

Millions of people in Germany are dependent on care. The "Renafan Network" in Berlin-Schoeneberg looks after around 300 of them. An insight into the industry, which is a cornerstone of society but often receives little appreciation.

Mr. Wyczeski (name changed) is already sitting on the bed with his back straight and waiting for the daily ritual. The apartment door is only ajar, so the knock on it is purely rhetorical. "It's us, the nursing service, good morning," sings Seid Halilcevic and slips on the blue shoe covers. The hands on the wall point to 10:10 a.m. The slender twenty-something calmly opens his care bag and pulls out the disinfectant wipes - the signal for Mr. Wyczeski to take off his T-shirt and expose the gaping, probably 15 centimeters long, open wound on the right side of his chest. "Lung cancer," says Mr Wyczeski dryly, "they took a wing off me, but that's why you have two."

The morning May sun shines through the open balcony door, which lets the cold smoke out of the small Berlin prefab apartment. In the background, the radio presenter talks non-stop without anyone listening. "When are you going to Switzerland?" Seid asks casually as he disinfects and cleans the deep wound so it doesn't "start sap." "Soon," assures Mr. Wyczeski, lying on the bed. His son lives there and for four weeks his newborn grandson, whom he wants to visit. Seid's hands work routinely, practiced grips, already done hundreds of times. Nonetheless, Mr. Wyczeski winces when the disinfectant wipe goes deep into the wound. That's still the case after three years - "and will always remain so," says the 66-year-old.

After ten minutes, Seid is back in the colorful "Renafan" company car and ticks off: Wyczeski, plaster changed. The list, which structures Seid's shift, contains 25 names and addresses, timed to the minute, and next to them the services to be provided: put in an insulin syringe, bring pills with you, change bandages. From person to person is not only the company motto, it is also Seid's everyday life. The young man likes contact with clients and has always wanted to help people. "It's a lot to do, but I try not to stress myself out." His profession is medical care, one of many specialist areas. For the clients, however, it is also about what is not on the list: the short conversation, the certainty that someone will come back tomorrow. "For some, we are the only social contact of the day."

Nursing, including a variety of care areas, job descriptions and activities. They are all united by an "emergency" that has been declared for years, which should actually raise an alarm, but instead has almost become a habit. The number of people employed in nursing professions has increased in recent years. In 2021, around 44,300 people were added nationwide compared to the previous year, but more and more people are dependent on care. Between 2009 and 2019, their number increased by 76 percent. In addition, half a million nurses will retire in the next twelve years. "Skills shortage" is the word of the hour.

"There are always enough clients, what many lack is the staff," agrees Gordana Sakic. She is the managing director of "Renafan network for outpatient care" in Berlin-Schoeneberg. The head office is in the middle of the colourful, lively "Regenbogenkiez". Their approximately 300 clients mostly live in the area and are cared for at home or in outpatient communities. "The Germans don't want to work in nursing anymore," explains Sakic, who herself comes from Serbia, explaining the shortage of staff in the industry. 95 percent of their employees are from abroad, most from Eastern Europe, some also come from Asia. Unlike the competition, however, she has no shortage of nurses as a resource. Because Sakic organizes castings, as she calls them, abroad. "We'll then go to other countries and there people will appear who want to work for us in Germany." Those who make it through the international assessment center receive an employment contract on site.

As are Seid. He had already completed nursing training in his home country of Bosnia, but there is no work there, "at least not without a bribe," he laughs, although he means it deadly seriously. After completing the German course, a job was still missing - until Sakic held one of her "castings" in his hometown. "More than a hundred people presented themselves, trained and unskilled nurses." Seid was one of about 20 who got the job. That was five years ago, when he was 21. When he arrived in Berlin, he initially lived with female colleagues in a shared apartment owned by the company. In the meantime he has worked his way up and started a family. He wants to start his next training soon, to become a nursing manager, his professional dream. "Nurses are held in high esteem in Bosnia," says Seid. In Germany, on the other hand, people often wrinkle their noses. "Most think I'm just changing diapers. Of course that's part of it, but it's about much more."

The average salary for skilled workers in geriatric care has recently increased and, according to the Federal Statistical Office, was 3430 euros gross per month. Nevertheless, many caregivers are turning their backs on the industry. According to a study by the Bremen Chamber of Employees, 300,000 more full-time nursing staff could be available. For this to work, however, the working conditions would have to improve. Shift work, a thin staffing level and the enormous time pressure affect many.

In the Corona crisis, the “systemic relevance” of the industry was invoked. Whether from balconies or from the Bundestag, expressions of solidarity suddenly hailed for the employees who had been toiling in the shade for a long time and on whom countless people depend or will one day depend. Politically, however, they were left alone, reports Sakic. For a long time there was a lack of protective equipment or disinfectants. Your employees were exposed to a constant risk of infection, and the already high psychological stress increased again. "Many were afraid of infecting themselves or others." Sooner or later, everyone caught the virus. "There was a time when 14 nurses were sick at once." You got through it as a team, with even more overtime and extra shifts. "Back then we experienced a war in the Balkans. I thought, if I survived that, then I can still do it now." This is how Sakic talks about the corona pandemic.

Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach wants to thank the nurses with another bonus of up to 550 euros, after there was a bonus of 1000 euros two years ago. "Money is always good," says Seid as he drives through the congested streets of West Berlin to the next client, who lives just a few blocks from Mr. Wyczeski's apartment. "But something like that was discussed for months. But when the 100 billion euros for the Bundeswehr was decided out of nowhere, I was surprised." Otherwise it is always said that there is no money.

Seid has a key for Mrs. Walther's (name changed) front door "in case something happens". Today is nothing, at least nothing different than usual. The 90-year-old sits in her place in the living room, everything seems to have a place here, not a single speck of dust can be seen on the all-white decor. Someone comes to Ms. Walther three times a day, helps her with personal hygiene, supports her in the household and goes shopping for her. "We're here to change the compression stockings." Sei succeeds in the feat of roaring in a friendly manner. And you have to yell at Frau Walther, she's hard of hearing. She has already taken off her old stockings and doesn't want to put on new ones. "They hurt," she complains in the genuine Berlin dialect. Seid accepts that without argument. "It's ok for one day. Besides, it's her apartment, we can't dictate anything there anyway."

Sei wants to go on when Frau Walther stops him. "I forgot to put bread on my shopping list last time. Now I don't have any." "I'll drive straight to the bakery, buy you one and bring it over in the evening," assures Seid loudly. That's also part of the job - somehow. "Country bread!" calls Mrs. Walther afterwards. You're already sitting in the colorful Hyundai with the company inscription. There is a tick behind Mrs. Walther's name. 10.41 a.m., a look at the smartphone reveals, you don't have to hurry yet, but who knows what's to come. The next appointment is just around the corner. 23 are left for today. 23 names, 23 lives.


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