The food budgets of Australian residential aged care facilities are dwindling while money spent on nutritional supplements is increasing, according to new analysis.
The paper published last week in Nutrition & Dietetics is based on surveys from 817 residential facilities representing about a third of operational places nationally and reports on care costs related to catering.
The research investigated the average food spend and trends of aged care facilities from 1 July 2014 to 30 June 2016 via survey data collected by aged care accountancy StewartBrown.
It found that the average spend per resident per day on catering costs – including food, cooking ingredients, supplements, meal replacements and items such as crockery, cutlery and paper goods – increased from $7.52 to $8.00 from the first year to the next.
However, the average daily spend on food fell by 5 per cent from $6.39 to $6.08 per resident per day over the period, according to the 56 per cent of facilities that provided a breakdown of catering costs.
At these facilities there was also a 128-per-cent increase (50 cents) in spending on oral nutrition supplements and food replacements per resident per day over the period, along with an 11-cent (28 per cent) increase in costs related to other consumables, such as crockery, cutlery and paper products.
The trend showing a decrease in spending on raw food and an increase in spending on supplements is a concern, said lead investigator Cherie Hugo, Bond University PhD candidate and aged care dietitian.
“We cannot cut the food budget anymore because it is a false economy,” Ms Hugo told Australian Ageing Agenda.
“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 said.
Ms Hugo, who is investigating aged care nutrition for her PhD, said she was concerned supplements were being used rather than addressing the underlying cause of someone’s malnutrition or weight loss, which could be related to the food options or their oral health.
Ms Hugo said the paper offered a baseline to monitor trends over the coming years.
In response to the findings, Leading Age Services Australia CEO Sean Rooney said aged care providers were required by the accreditation standards to demonstrate that catering services were provided in a way that ensured meal preferences, nutritional needs and special requirements of residents were met.
He said weight gain and loss were measured and responded to routinely and supplements were used to complement the nutritional intake of an elderly person in residential aged care when required.
“In the context of mounting fiscal pressures in the delivery of aged care services, we are seeing many providers combining their resources or small providers newly acquired by larger aged care groups having increased buying power that would potentially lower a provider’s spend on food,” Mr Rooney told AAA.
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