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Are our elderly really fed worse than prisoners? The industry responds

A new report which claims Australia’s elderly receive worse meals than the nation’s prisoners has sparked debate across the aged care industry.

The report, What Does it Cost to Feed Aged Care Residents in Australia? was published in the Nutrition & Dietetics Journal today, and revealed that some nursing homes spent just $6 a day on meals per resident.

“Data was compiled from 817 residential aged care facilties, representing 64, 256 residential beds,” the report stated.

“The average total spend in Australian dollars on catering consumables was eight dollars per resident per day, and six dollars when looking at the raw food and ingredients budget alone.

“Additional data from over half of the residential aged care facilities indicates a five per cent decrease in food cost over the last year – particularly in fresh produce – with a simultaneous 128 per cent increase in cost for supplements and food replacements.

“Current figures are comparatively less than aged care food budgets internationally (US, UK and Canada), less than community-dwelling older adults ($17.25 per day) and 136 per cent less than Australian corrective services ($8.25 per day).”

Australian Medical Association president Dr Michael Gannon was one of the first ports of call for comment, and said the statistics were unfortunate but reflected a deep-rooted problem regarding attitudes towards aged care.

“My reaction was one of shock initially, and yet sadly it fits in with a picture of not paying enough attention to the care of our elderly,” Dr Gannon said. “Aged care facilities are a problem and the accreditation systems are not protecting all of the residents.

“[To be spending so little on meals] they must be falling short somewhere in terms of appropriate ingredients or fresh ingredients.

“It’s entirely appropriate that people in residential aged care facilities get healthy and nourishing meals; so many of them have so much to contribute, it’s the least we owe people in their autumn years.”

Dr Gannon said the study assessed 800 aged care providers across the country, and the results showed changes needed to be made to the industry.

I think there’s a responsibility to beef up the accreditation of these facilities,” he said.

“I know from personally speaking to the Minister for Aged Care, Ken Wyatt, he found the Oakford report in Adelaide very distressing; we’ve got a long way to go before we can say that we as a society do the right thing in looking after our aged.

“There are rules in terms of minimum standards of accommodation, minimum standards of access to health care, and we need to look at the minimum standards of nutrition.

“I suspect that what we’ll see in coming years is the bar lifted higher in terms of nurse-resident ratios – I think that’s a good thing.”

Meanwhile, LASA chief executive Sean Rooney has hit back at media reports comparing nursing home meals to those given to prisons, and maintains that nutrition is a key consideration in the accreditation of Australian nursing homes.

“Outcome 2.10 in the standards asks whether care recipients receive adequate nourishment and hydration and providers are required to demonstrate that catering services are provided in a way that ensures the meal preferences, nutritional needs and special requirements of residents are met,” Rooney said.

“During both unannounced visits and in re-accreditation visits, residential care facilities are assessed against these standards.

“In addition, it is extremely misleading to compare the food spend in an aged care facility with that of a prison. Around two-thirds of aged care residents are women over the age of 80, who typically have a much lower calorie requirement than the predominantly younger male, adult prison population.”

Rooney said frail residents were at high-risk of weight loss and malnutrition, and aged care facilities prepared for this fact.

“Providers take this issue very seriously and the Malnutrition Screening Tool (MST) is employed in all facilities to give a clinical indication and weight band and treatment strategies for weight loss,” he said.

“Where malnutrition is identified, response strategies will be employed which may consist of nutritional supplements prescribed by a general practitioner.

“In a nursing home setting many residents are very frail and supplements are an important part of their nutrition for a significant number.

“The cost of these supplements is not included in the average cost of food figure in today’s reports, however, expenditure on dietary supplements has increased by 128 per cent in the past year.

“Conditions further contributing to limited dietary intake and use of supplements can include dementia, swallowing difficulties, poor dental health and chronic disease, depression and pain.”

While Rooney acknowledged that no system was perfect, he stands in defence of Australia’s nursing homes.

“The overwhelming majority of aged care providers in Australia are delivering excellent services, including food and catering, underpinned by dedicated and professional staff,” he said.

“Notwithstanding this, more can be done to enhance residents’ food experiences. In its pre-Budget submission, LASA has called for Commonwealth funds for a project to identify best-practice and innovative directions for food services in residential aged care.”

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One comment

  1. My mother is in a nursing home we think is quite good. Even so, after all the introductory business of asking what foods she likes, (wholemeal bread, all vegetables, particularly greens, colourful salads), she has never had these basics as a matter of routine. We visit so often, we see the meals and vegetables are always sparse. We had to beg for her to have spinach. The kitchen staff are charming but they tell us on about $7 per day, they cannot do better. The home constantly pesters her about being weighed, which she refuses mostly because having done it for much of the first year she was there, she knows that even if she loses weight, they will not give her food she enjoys.