‘Stepping in the right direction’

Federal government initiatives to improve food and nutrition in residential aged care is a positive move, says an industry expert.

Federal government initiatives to improve food and nutrition in residential aged care is a positive move and a step in the right direction, says an industry expert.

Referring to the government’s $13-million budget commitment to lift the quality and nutritiousness of food in aged care homes, aged care dietitian Dr Cherie Hugo said: “I feel we’re stepping in the right direction. This is a move that is very positive.”

Dr Cherie Hugo addressing stakeholders during a live online webinar

Speaking during a webinar hosted by the Lantern Project – a national industry collaboration working to advance dining standards in aged care, which Dr Hugo founded in 2014 – she commended the Albanese Government “on what has been, so far in history, the largest commitment to the topic of aged care food, nutrition and the dining experience.”  

Almost 200 stakeholders – including provider and peak body representatives, chefs, catering staff and dietitians – logged online last week to hear Dr Hugo and guests unpack the government’s food and nutrition initiatives, which include a new Food Nutrition and Dining Advisory Support Unit and a food complaints hotline.

Dr Hugo was joined during the 90-minute webinar by Dr Melanie Wroth – chief clinical advisor at the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission – and Josh Maldon – assistant secretary choice and transparency at the Department of Health and Aged Care.

Mr Maldon told the online audience that sitting alongside the suite of initiatives would be greater reporting requirements. “That is part of the quid pro quo,” he said. “If we’re pumping more money into the system, you’ve then got greater accountability.”

Among the accountability measures will be “increased targeted food spot checks” said Mr Maldon – 720 per year. “We expect that will drive greater regulatory intelligence to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission and using that data they will be able to target more specific checks, which is a great thing because we do need to see greater accountability within the system.”

Dr Melanie Wroth

Expanding on the spot checks, Dr Wroth said the commission will employ experts to support its frontline officers. “Many of those, we hope, will have dietitians actually accompanying them … We want to make sure that we are clearly engaging with services of concern.”

Dr Wroth acknowledged that residents’ food expectations were generally low. “We don’t think that’s good enough. We’re hoping to raise residents’ expectations to what we think they should be expecting, what they have a right to expect.”

To help lift expectations, Mr Maldon said the government intends to embrace expertise. “It’s about having a credited, practicing dietitian input into the development of menus … We have many, ready, willing and able dietitians and other nutrition experts in the space that we’re able to leverage.”

Josh Maldon speaking about the need to strengthen food and nutrition reporting

Mr Maldon said the aim was to shift people’s impressions of the aged care dining experience. “Part of this is getting out and correcting people’s perceptions on food, showcasing the good examples of food that we have … and rebuilding community confidence.”

Data shows one-third of residents expressing a negative response to the food served in aged care facilities said Mr Maldon. “How do I lift that third up?” he asked.

Responding, Dr Hugo said it’s a quality improvement process. “If providers are actively engaging with residents and getting feedback and they’re on a journey, that’s the key isn’t it?”

Dr Wroth agreed. With effort and purpose, she said providers can transform the dining experience for its residents. “Where people put in the focus and desire – make it clearly something of importance – actually things really do change … it’s not just hope, it’s reality.”

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Tags: aged care quality and safety commission, dr cherie hugo, dr melanie wroth, featured, josh maldon, lantern project,

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