Seniors in the area are “cautiously optimistic” about a study launched by Alberta Health Services into the provincial 21-day menu plan offered at government-run hospitals and auxiliary long term care facilities, according to Edith Read, president for the Alberta Council for Aging, Region 2.
“I would prefer that we go back to the way things were when food was prepared on site but I just don’t think that is going to happen now,” said Read. She is hoping that the study will result in improvements in the quality of the food, greater selection and greater flexibility about using locally grown foods. “There is just nothing like a bowl of fresh strawberries or fresh peas right from the garden,” she added.
Complaints from rural areas particularly were fierce in the wake of the decision to serve more pre-packaged meals and entrees to patients who voiced the opinion that the foods were not palatable.
Following the introduction of the 21-day menu, Read said that the Alberta Council for Aging sent letters of concern signed by about 560 seniors to local MLA Ray Danyluk, Minister of Health Gene Zwozdesky and opposition MLAs. She said that others have spoken directly to cabinet ministers and the premier about the issue.
“Based on the number of concerns that were expressed, Premier Stelmach thought he would try out some of this food and he wasn’t overly impressed,” said Read. “The government has at least listened to the concerns of seniors and is attempting to make the situation better.”
Andrew Wells, executive vice president of clinical support services with Alberta Health Services (AHS), said AHS is conducting a study at 26 randomly selected locations, including the St. Therese Hospital in St. Paul. The study will evaluate the nutritional content of the food, whether residents have choice to meet personal preferences, and how to change work processes of staff to increase interaction between staff and residents at mealtime.
“Implementing a new system like that across that many sites across the province is a pretty major project and I think any quality improvement project should have a review at the end of it to see if we have met the objectives,” said Wells.
An external food services expert called Food Systems Consulting Inc. will be conducting the review, explained Read. “They’re supposed to do a review of the food, patient satisfaction, whether it is meeting their financial and productivity goals, visit the sites and observe meal time, talk to patients, staff and residents.” The report and recommendations should be completed by the end of October.
Shane Saskiw, Wildrose Alliance candidate for the riding, said he feels this is an example of the government being reactive rather then proactive.
“The (health) minister is talking about having more choice and having more menus made locally. Well, the only way to do that is to have a decentralized system,” said Saskiw, adding that when the government amalgamated the regional health boards, it shifted the decision making from regional boards to Edmonton. “As hard as they try in Edmonton, they do not know what the needs are in rural Alberta … This is another example of how centralization of health services does not work.”
The hospitals and long term care facilities in Two Hills, St. Paul (St. Therese), Elk Point, Cold Lake and Lac La Biche currently offer the 21-day menu. Extendicare in St. Paul and the Bonnyville hospital are not offering the menu, because although they do receive government funds, they are privately run facilities, explained Read.