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Former seaman steers nursing home through waves of COVID

4 February 20220 comments

Essex Diocena is used the navigating troubled waters.

The Filipino migrant went from being the captain of a merchant ship sailing the Pacific to a key position in aged care helping his clients stay safe through successive waves of COVID-19.

Essex migrated from the Philippines ten years ago.

“I used to work in the maritime industry. I was part of multicultural crews on cargo ships and rose through the ranks to become captain of a freighter,” he said.

After coming to Australia, he tried to find jobs in the maritime industry but found barriers and difficulties as most of the shipping in Australian ports is overseas owned.

“So I turned to the health and aged care sectors to find a new career,” Essex said.

After completing a Certificate III in Aged Care with AMES Australia, he landed a job as a personal care assistant in an aged care facility.

He has since been promoted to the position of roster coordinator, responsible for make sure there are enough staff to keep running the Arcare residence in Essendon, where he works.

“I’m now looking after staff rosters for care assistance and nurses and dealing with staff and client issues. It’s not so different from keeping a ship running efficiently,” he said.

Essex said COVID had made his work increasingly difficult.

“It’s been very hard through COVID; just finding enough people to work and having to convince staff to work for long hours,” he said.

“We’ve had staff shortages because we can’t get people from other facilities. And there obviously a lot of COVID protocols that we have to observe.

“We have literally been on the front lines in the battle against COVID for two years and there are issues around omicron and the changes it has brought. But I hope we see some better times soon,” he said.

But Essex said he found his job fulfilling.

“It is very rewarding work. Our clients appreciate what we do for them,” he said.

Essex spent 15 years at sea mostly aboard tankers and bulk carriers after completing a degree in maritime transportation in his home city Manilla.

“I sailed across the world aboard these ships. We visited ports in Europe, the US and the Pacific Islands,” he said.

Essex started out as junior officer; he was a chief mate for nine years and captain for three.

“There were some memorable moments, sailing through typhoons where the waves could be huge and string winds. That was quite scary,” he said.”

“But there were good times too – and you got to travel for free. I remember spending time in France in summer and visiting Pacific Islands with amazing beaches and sunsets,” Essex said.

He said his experiences at sea helped him in his role helping to run a nursing home through the COVID pandemic.

“At sea you sometimes have to deal with many things at once and we are doing that now keeping our people safe through the pandemic,” Essex said.

“Sometimes on a ship you get disputes between crew members, so you are lawyer and policeman all rolled into one,” he said.

The Philippines is one of the primary source of seamen in the global shipping and transport market. Filipinos are employed as seafarers worldwide, more than any other country.

In 2019, it was estimated that there were 500,000 Filipinos employed as seamen working across the globe and the Philippines produces around 300,000 graduates of maritime schools each year.