It’s been all over the media this morning, but newly released figures by Bond University, where they reviewed more than 800 aged care providers, has estimated that, on average, $6 spent for aged care resident to feed them for a whole day.

In comparison, an older person in the community will spend $17.25 a day on food. It’s no wonder that around half of all aged care residents are suffering from malnutrition.

And, alarmingly, convicted criminals in prisons will get approximately $8.25 on food.

The Australian Medical Association says its a “disgrace” and “appalling”.

On the other hand, aged care operators have defended themselves explaining that they get “value for money because they are big operations”.

The report states; “increasing the aged care profit margin by reducing food spend impacts the quality of resident care and can contribute to malnutrition rates in aged care”.

“Malnutrition is associated with a cascade of adverse outcomes, including increased risk of falls, pressure injuries and hospital admissions, leading to poorer resident quality of life and increased healthcare costs.”

“The increase in supplements and food replacements in the present paper likely indicates that aged care providers perhaps choose supplements over fresh food and ingredients in response to unintentional resident weight loss,” it reads.

“Given the ongoing high rates of malnutrition in Australian Residential Aged Care Facilities and potentially improved awareness of the issue despite an increased supplement spend, we are clearly not solving the expensive problem of malnutrition with current approaches.”

Media Misleading the Public?

Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) CEO Sean Rooney has hit back at the media reports saying the reporting is misleading and could cause unnecessary concern for older Australians and their families.

Rooney said all residential aged care facilities in Australia are accredited by the Federal Government and nutrition is a key consideration in this process.

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

“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.

“Non-compliances against the standards are noted and sanctions can be applied in response to non-compliances.”

Mr Rooney said it is well recognised that frail residents of aged care facilities are at high risk of weight loss and malnutrition can occur.

“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.”

“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 of $6.08 per day which is quoted in today’s reports. However, expenditure on dietary supplements has increased by 128% in the past year.”

“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. “

“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.

There were even some comparisons made between the cost of feeding the elderly in aged care and feeding the family pets.

Aged care peak body Aged & Community Services Australia (ACSA) agrees, saying that recent media reports misrepresent the experience of food in an aged care setting.

“Providers are conscious of both the importance of good quality, nutritious food for the overall wellbeing of residents while also being attentive to their responsibilities with regards to regulated standards of nutrition.”

“The diets described in recent media reports would result in sanctions for non-compliance on industry standards relating to adequate nourishment and hydration. These reports grossly misrepresent the care taken by the majority of providers to provide healthy and interesting food choices for residents.”

“Food, and a person’s love for good, nutritious food doesn’t change just because that resident moves into residential aged care.”

“While reports of inadequate nutrition are not to be dismissed out-of-hand it must also be acknowledged that this is far from the common experience of those in residential aged care.”

“Aged care is increasingly consumer-driven with older Australians expressing their preferences for all aspects of their care, including food.”

“The industry has many talented, individual chefs working in aged care facilities committed to excellence in food every day. They’re the ones leading the way for those high standards into the future.”

Rob Clifford, who has been involved with both catering for aged care and the pet food industry, agrees that “we do spend more on pets” but says that the two are really not comparable.

“Pet food is a luxury item, so of course it’s going to cost more. When people buy pet food, they purchase it for a small number at retail price,” says Clifford.

“Food in aged care facilities, in comparison, can be much more cost efficient as it’s purchased in bulk at wholesale prices normally as fresh food prior to preparation of meals.”

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