Pressure builds for better food at senior care homes

EDMONTON — Seniors living in long-term care homes should be eating homemade soups, fresh vegetables and nice roast dinners rather than warmed up, mass produced food pre-cooked elsewhere and trucked to facilities across the province, says the deputy reeve of the Municipal District of Willow Creek.

Ian Sundquist said the food was so bad at the Willow Creek Continuing Care centre in his municipality that the problem was raised with government officials and a resolution brought to the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties convention.

“If we don’t keep government’s feet to the fire, we’ll be letting the people down,” he said.

“The food is so bad. These people don’t have a choice of what they eat. These are the people who deserve to be fed well.”

Sundquist said after hearing plenty of complaints about the poor quality of food served in long-term facilities, he and other council members arranged to eat a meal at the facility.

“We went and made arrangements to have a meal. It was so-so. We learned later the staff improved the meal that day,” Sundquist said after speaking in favour of a resolution that asked the government to ensure home cooking return to all Alberta Health Services long-term care facilities.

“The changes were brought in as cost savings, but it wasn’t. So much food is getting thrown out because nobody wants to eat it.”

Heather Truber, director of food safety, menu and supply for Alberta Health Services, said health minister Fred Horne heard so many complaints about the poor quality food this summer that he directed Alberta Health Services to make changes to improve food for residents by Dec. 1.

She said the department has since made changes to the food at Alberta Health Services facilities. AHS operates 72 of the province’s 173 long-term care facilities.

Food services staff travelled to all facilities this summer to talk to residents, family and the community about what they liked on the menu, what they missed and what they would like to see return.

“We have made a number of changes to the menu, all of them made in response to requests to residents who live at each facility.”

Alberta Health Services was created in 2009 out of smaller regional health boards.

“We had amalgamated all of that menu planning and purchasing function and the benefits of that,” Truber said.

“It provided us with some consistent products and consistent contracts so that we could reap the benefit of larger purchasing power.”

But it also created problems.

“In some cases, maybe the items were not suited for the preparation method that we had, or the equipment the sites had. We did have some challenges with our food products and we recognized that and we wanted to respond to residents’ feedback.”

After interviewing residents, Truber said they made immediate changes to the menu based on residents’ suggestions.

“For instance, some sites wanted some more of their cultural favourites. We started within a week serving some of their favourite soups or favourite desserts,” Truber said.

“We liked to say our meals were always healthy and nutritious and they may be now a bit more of what the residents specifically would like. The food was always healthy and nutritious. It may not have been what they were familiar with and it may not have been as appealing as it should have been. I think we just enhanced that.”

Truber said food will continue to be a mixture of homemade and food prepared off site.

“We will continue to have a blend of those items, although we will have more items made at the site as requested by the residents.”

Sundquist said the food may have improved since he ate at the long-term care facility, but he wanted the issue brought up at the provincial municipalities convention to make sure other councillors were aware of potential problems with the food the residents were eating.

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