Thursday, 04 October 2012 07:27

Seniors in long-term care will enjoy changes to menus

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AHS Provincial Culinary Lead Tracy Christensen, left, has a laugh during food prep at the Willow Creek Continuing Care Centre in Claresholm with cooks Rea Wilkinson, Ruth Hengerer and Food Service Supervisor Deb Lyckman. AHS Provincial Culinary Lead Tracy Christensen, left, has a laugh during food prep at the Willow Creek Continuing Care Centre in Claresholm with cooks Rea Wilkinson, Ruth Hengerer and Food Service Supervisor Deb Lyckman. Photo courtesy of Alberta Health Services

In the summer, Alberta Health Services (AHS) launched its Closer to Home initiative to bring back “home-cooking” to seniors’ residences and many of those seniors are already enjoying the benefits of the initiatives through re-vamped menus based on their taste preferences.

The initiative was rolled out as a response to Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne’s directive in July to bring back food preparation services in AHS long-term care facilities by December.
About three years ago, AHS moved to a 21-day menu system. A lot of the food preparation was taken out of long-term care facilities and seniors served frozen and re-heated meals.
It created debate within communities where family members and residents complained about the lack of taste of the food and how it looked. Earlier this year, it also sparked a documentary called Tough to Swallow by the AUPE as well as poor reviews from CBC food critic John Gilchrist.
In an update provided in September, AHS officials said on-site preparation of foods is being expanded based on resident feedback. That feedback was gathered through meetings with residents, their families and concerned community members in 10 communities. Residents in all 74 AHS long-term care centres were consulted by the end of September.
“AHS is recognizing that food is a big part of the quality of life for residents,” says Kari Schafer, director of nutrition and food services for Alberta Health Services South Zone.
She says the initiative includes adding choice and variety to the menus in seniors’ facilities including familiar foods the residents have grown up with as well as using more items from local producers.
“The goal is to offer foods that remind (the residents) of home cooking,” she adds.
Every site in the province is being recognized as unique and the menu will be catered as such.
“That’s why the feedback is so important.”
In some sites, especially in the South Zone, residents are saying they want more homemade soups. Brooks, Bow Island and Taber residents have specifically asked for homemade hamburger soup, so that item will be added to the menu.
There will be fresh, local fruits and vegetables in season, such as Taber corn and seasonal root vegetables.
In the Oyen long-term care facility, there is a plan being put in place to serve homemade pies — a specific request of residents.
Some changes have already rolled out such as serving Taber corn and also serving local beets in the Brooks’ facility and stir-frys in Cardston.
In a Sept. 20 news release, Heather Truber, director of food safety, menu and supply for AHS, said the goal of the initiative is to offer foods that remind long-term care residents of home cooking.
“Home cooking means something different to every Albertan,” said Truber. “For some, it reminds them of comfort foods; for others, it’s about special occasions and special menus. While we can’t fully replicate the kind of home cooking you get at home, it’s a higher standard we aspire to.”
Launched in September was a recipe swap website called Cook’s Corner. Albertans are invited to visit the website at: to share their favourite recipes and see recipes posted by AHS food services staff of their most popular dishes.
Schafer said the critical component of the initiative moving forward will be to continue the food dialogue with residents and community members.
“The key is we need to continue to connect with residents and councils about the changes made and get feedback from dining rooms and resident council meetings,” she added.
Rita Burton has been fighting for better food in her local seniors’ home — the Willow Creek Auxiliary Hospital in Claresholm — for the past few years. She’s glad to hear Alberta Health Services will be bringing back “home cooking,” but questions just how big the changes will actually be.
While vocal the past three years ever since the food went from being prepared in the seniors’ home to being trucked in and re-heated for service to seniors, Burton believes the documentary Tough to Swallow really helped in the fight for better meals.
“A lot of people didn’t realize how bad it was,” she says.
She believes the decision to serve frozen, reheated entrees instead of freshly-prepared food would never have happened if local hospital boards wouldn’t have been dismantled to make way for the provincial authority — Alberta Health Services.
“My feeling is this never would have happened if government didn’t take away our local control. We knew how to run our hospital and our long-term care facility. It was known as one of the best.
“They created this whole program,” she adds about government. “With the local board that was elected and not paid, they would address any problems we had quickly. It worked very well.”
Even when the meals were changed to the new system, Burton questions why it wasn’t done more slowly to see if it was really beneficial. Now the whole system is being re-vamped yet again, a short three years later.
“The whole way they did it, it was just wrong. It was very upsetting to people,” adds Burton.
She intends to continue to monitor the situation in Claresholm to ensure the changes are beneficial to the seniors in the auxiliary hospital She was invited to an initial meeting Aug. 9 where officials from AHS met with residents of the auxiliary to ask them what kinds of foods they like to eat and what they’d like to see change. Then returned for subsequent meetings in September.
Gaynor Hoglund was also vocal about the food being served to seniors in Claresholm. She was ecstatic to learn changes are in the works, but at the same time will wait to see just how much of a change occurs.

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Rose Sanchez

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