Ontario nursing homes can add fresher, better food to menu thanks to budget boost

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[Nursing home residents in Ontario get 67 cents a day more for food. Shameful. The 'good news' story title is nullified by the photo that accompanies the article: "The province spends less per day feeding seniors than it does feeding prisoners." *RON*]

Moira Welsh, The Star, 10 May 2017

The Ontario government is boosting the raw food allowance for long-term care residents to $9 a day from $8.33 starting July 1. (STAR TOUCH)
Residents of Ontario nursing homes will get better, fresher food thanks to a funding boost from the province.

The 67-cent increase — from $8.33 to $9 a day starting July 1— is double the amount requested by long-term care associations. It comes after advocate lobbying and a Star story that detailed the types of cheap, processed food that seniors in nursing homes were served.

“This new funding will enable homes to buy local produce, fresh fruits and vegetables more often,” said Cathy Gapp, CEO of AdvantAge Ontario, the recently renamed association that represents not-for-profit and municipal homes.

Outrage from Star readers forced the government’s hand, Gapp said.

“When the public speaks the government has to listen. That helped a lot,” she said.
Despite the extra funding, seniors still receive less than inmates in Ontario who are fed on $9.73 a day.

The tight food budget meant many homes gave Ontario’s 77,000 nursing home residents processed meats, frozen vegetables and canned fruit. Critics say the cheap food shortchanges residents. Gapp argues that nutritious and culturally familiar food can help many residents — particularly those with dementia — feel calm and satisfied.

Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care rules dictate the types of food and nutritional requirements for each meal. There must be specific amounts of protein, fibre, vegetables and fruit. The problem is that many homes are meeting those requirements by serving cheap food that provides calories with little nutritional value.

The health ministry sets the per day food allowance. There have been small increases over the last few years but no guarantee for funding increases to keep up with food inflation. Until the increase in the 2017 budget, funding increased incrementally, from $7.80 in 2014 to $8.33 in 2016. The 2017 increase will cost an additional $15 million.

A ministry spokesperson said homes have the flexibility to dip into other funding “envelopes” for extra money to spend on food. Many municipal or not-for-profit homes regularly top up the daily food allowance with money from outside programs.

Some homes do a better job than others at good homestyle cooking — the meals that residents crave, ongoing Star reporting on the subject reveals. A few have kitchens near resident living space, which offers them the freedom to eat toast and jam, or a bowl of soup, at any time of day. Residents generally have to follow a strict meal schedule.

Outrage from Star readers forced the government’s hand on the issue of quality food served to seniors in nursing homes, said Cathy Gapp, CEO of AdvantAge Ontario. “When the public speaks the government has to listen. That helped a lot." (CATHY GAPP PHOTO)
Most homes have a commercial kitchen in the basement, where food is prepared, plated and then brought upstairs on trolleys. Staff in each residential unit are required to show residents two different sample plates of food and have them choose one. The sample food is thrown in the garbage.

Long-term care associations and the Dieticians of Canada all lobbied the government to improve raw food funding. A 2015 survey by the Dieticians of Canada found many Ontario homes were struggling to provide nutritional meals to residents. The report concluded homes are “serving cheaper protein foods and fewer fresh fruits and vegetables due to budget constraints.”

Candace Chartier, CEO of the Ontario Long Term Care Association, said the “phenomenal” increase will help nursing home menu planners avoid worries about future price spikes and allow for innovative meals for residents with special needs.

Residents who cannot swallow whole foods could benefit from dietary advances that, for example, create puréed meat that looks like a regular steak, she said.

“This will enhance the lives of residents,” said Chartier, whose association represents private and not-for-profit long-term care homes.

Chartier defended the meals served in long-term care homes, saying most serve delicious high-quality fare but nursing home advocate Kathy Pearsall questioned how the new money will be used.

“It sounds great,” said Pearsall, a spokesperson for Concerned Friends of Ontario. “My concern is that homes will buy commercially prepared foods that are expensive and that eats up a lot of the raw food budget.”

Gapp, of AdvantAge Ontario, said the struggle for better food isn’t over yet. Homes need better cultural food and the Ontario government must commit to an annual increase to keep up with food inflation, she said.

“We are pleased, but we are not going to sit back and wait.”

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