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Seniors to get ‘home-cooked’ meals
- July 28, 2012
From the Calgary Herald
Alberta’s health superboard will no longer “truck in” precooked meals to seniors at smaller care homes after complaints about the taste and nutritional value of the food.
Health Minister Fred Horne is ordering Alberta Heath Services to serve home-cooked menu items in all of its 73 long-term care facilities by the end of this year to help improve the taste, appearance and variety.
The reversal comes amid criticism from Alberta’s biggest union and the Wildrose party, both of which took the province to task for serving precooked, unappetizing food to seniors.
AHS shut down the kitchens in small centres across the province two years ago to cut costs. Meals were instead prepared off-site — in some cases outside the province — often using “flash freezing” techniques.
Asked last month about food quality at long-term care homes, Horne said the variety and appeal factor of the food could use some work, but the menus were otherwise nutritious.
But on Thursday, Horne said seniors shouldn’t have to put up with reheated lunches and suppers.
Feedback from residents and seniors advocacy groups “(has) told us clearly that preparing food off-site and reheating it does not meet expectations . . . and we are taking actions to change that,” Horne said.
It’s not unusual for health facilities to bring in food from elsewhere, Horne said, noting most of Canada’s urban hospitals do just that. “But long-term care is a special case. These are not institutions, these are people’s homes.
“I have no doubt the food being served is of nutritional value to residents,” he said, “but in terms of appearance and the other things that go into home cooking, if you will, it was clearly absent.”
At issue are the menus at long-term care and other seniors facilities with fewer than 125 beds.
In December 2009, the health superboard launched a centralized menu program with a rotating, 21-day meal plan at the centres. The strategy was intended to ensure nutritional standards were met at the care homes, many of them in rural locations.
But instead many residents complained that the food quality suffered.
In a bid to improve, AHS now plans to seek feedback from the residents of 10 long-term care facilities across the province with the goal of developing a food strategy for all facilities by October.
That could mean having a discussion about spices and condiments or how to supply preferences such as game meat or ethnic dishes, said AHS chief operating officer Chris Mazurkewich.
“We’ve been at this for two years. We’ve tried different things and we’re still not getting the satisfaction ratings that our residents are entitled to,” Mazurkewich said. “We’ve been listening to that feedback now and we’re going to go at it much quicker.”
The menu changes can’t come soon enough for Jim Ellwood, a senior who resides in a Stettler care facility.
Ellwood, 75, has lived at the home for about six years and had long lobbied for tastier, more nutritious fare.
“I’m ecstatic about it,” said the senior, who has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair. “There’s a full facility kitchen up here and it’s not being used. Anybody could get the food that’s coming in the truck and stick it in a microwave and hit the buttons.”
He’s hoping to say goodbye to unsavoury meat and soggy vegetables.
“The hamburgers look like sawdust, the salmon has a coating on it as thick as the fish itself and the broccoli is half mush. We’ll be looking forward to better entrees than that,” Ellwood said.
Last month, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees released a 14-minute documentary critical of the food served to seniors at a Claresholm facility.
A new menu will go a long way to improving life for elderly Albertans who look forward to their meals, and bolster morale for employees who work at the facilities, said AUPE president Guy Smith.
“Our members felt they were undermining the care they give to residents by having to serve this food,” Smith said.
Wildrose seniors critic Kerry Towle said she’s pleased the province is taking measures to improve food quality, but believes seniors are owed an apology.
“Most of our seniors are used to regular food and fresh fruit and vegetables — not processed meat, gravy and mashed potatoes that are flakes and water. They’ve basically been eating TV dinners for more than two years,” Towle said.
Towle would also like the province to look into the quality of food served at facilities not operated by AHS.
From the Calgary Herald