Mar 28, 2022

$6 per day: Aged care providers continue to cut corners on food

Real cost of food in aged care

During the Royal Commission it was revealed that aged care providers spend on average only $6 per resident per day on food. Part of the government’s response to the Royal Commission has been a $10 per resident per day supplement to the Basic Daily Fee to improve the delivery of care and services, with a focus on food and nutrition.

In order to receive the supplement, providers have to commit to reporting on their food and nutrition spending and the quality of their daily living services. The data for the first six months of the supplement has now been collated and the government has released its first ‘Food and Nutrition’ report, based on the self-reported data.

Nearly all (99%) of the aged care providers in Australia entered into an agreement with the government to receive the supplement and provide the additional information, and by the end of December 2021, more than 2,600 providers had received approximately $350 million in total.

This result is in line with data from aged care accountancy specialists StewartBrown, which found that in the last six months of 2021, providers spent $12.63 per resident per day on food.

Overall, the government data shows the average daily spend in relation to food and nutrition was approximately $13.94 in the first quarter and $14.27 in the second quarter. However, these figures include labour costs, which aged care providers said they were unable to extract from the data.

Providers also revealed they are using innovative and creative ways to improve food services, for example creating kitchen gardens in consultation with residents, using technology to allow residents to select their daily meal and size choices, taste-testing for new menus, and ‘community street projects’ where residents can access replica streets in pop-up shops and cafés.

Providers are also finding new ways to improve food services and nutrition for residents living with dementia. Providers revealed they are using red crockery and contrasting place settings, they are using meal cards with images so residents can independently select their preferences, and introducing a ‘Wanderfull Menu’ where residents can access calorie-and-protein-rich finger food ‘on the run’ for residents known to pace the corridors and who present challenges eating meals at designated meal times.

Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck, said the supplement should be used by providers to improve health and nutrition outcomes.

He said the Department of Health will refer any provider spending less than $10 per resident per day to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission to consider regulatory action.

“Providers have a responsibility to ensure the health and wellbeing of residents – but also that this funding is being used appropriately,” Minister Colbeck said.

“The Basic Daily Fee supplement was provided to residential aged care services to improve the delivery of care and services to senior Australians, with a focus on food and nutrition – that is what residents and their families expect.

Food and nutrition has been a core part of the government’s reforms.

As well as the supplement, the government is asking 20% of residents whether they like the food in their aged care home and publishing the results as part of the star ratings system. The new Quality Indicators also now require reporting on unplanned weight loss, which will be again published as part of the star ratings. And the government is undertaking an “urgent review” of the Aged Care Quality Standards, which include food and nutrition.

Sean Rooney, chief executive of the Australian Aged Care Coalition, which represents aged care providers, told The Australian “the $10 was never intended to be spent entirely on food”. 

“The sector is still having to deal with years of underfunding and the ongoing impact of the pandemic on the sector over the past two years.”

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