My guinea pigs eat better: AMA

Prisoners and guinea pigs get more fresh food than many older people, according to critics responding to a study that found kitchen budgets at many aged care facilities around Australia had dropped to $6.08 per person per day.

Australian Medical Association President Michael Gannon says the study’s findings are “a national disgrace”.

“My children’s guinea pigs get fresh ingredients and more money spent on them,’’ he told News Limited. “It’s a national disgrace the way we treat our aged.”

In an industry that is still very much under the microscope following Fairfax Media revelations last year of  “systemic and structural deficiencies” in nursing homes, the Bond University study What does it cost to feed aged care residents in Australia? has heaped more pressure on the sector.

The study collected data from 817 residential aged care facilities (RACF) with the results representing 64,256 residents or 33% of the national total.

It found that spending on fresh food was being cut while budgets for nutritional supplements and food replacements had increased by 128%.

Expenditure on inmates at correctional facilities around Australia, meanwhile, was $8.25 per person per day, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), while older Australians spent on average $17.25 per person per day and younger adults $18.29 – more than three times the allocation at some aged care facilities.

The study noted that aged care food budgets had decreased despite inflation and were well below spending at aged care facilities overseas.

The findings were a concern, according to Cherie Hugo, lead investigator, aged care dietitian and Bond University PhD candidate.

“We cannot cut the food budget any more because it is a false economy,” she said.

“You end up spending more on supplements, which don’t improve quality of life for your residents. And the cost of that small cut ends up being very expensive in terms of the flow-on effects such as wounds, falls and hospital readmission,” she told Australian Ageing Agenda.

Ms Hugo said she was concerned that supplements were being added in preference to addressing the underlying cause of someone’s malnutrition or weight loss.

Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) CEO Sean Rooney said it was 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,” he said.

He said all residential aged care facilities in Australia were accredited by the Federal Government and nutrition was a key consideration in the accreditation 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.”  

Are meals in an aged care facility an issue for you?

Written by Janelle Ward

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