Nursing home residents in South Australia were left distraught after being served an “appalling” Christmas meal of baked beans and mashed potato.
A photo of the dinner served to residents at The Vales nursing home at Morphett Vale shows two dollops of mash potato and some baked beans smeared across the plate.
Local Labor MP Nat Cook said the photo was taken by a daughter of a resident, who had returned her mother to the facility and found one lady in tears because she had been served the plate of food.
“She found a resident in tears with this meal in front of her,” Ms Cook told The New Daily.
“This woman was crying in her room.”
“She was a resident who hadn’t been taken out for a Christmas meal and she was upset.
“It’s slopped on a plate, its unattractive, but there’s a bigger problem in terms of providing nourishment.”
The image was shared online with one local resident labelling it as “appalling”.
Of the 170 residents at the home, 105 had been served the beans for afternoon tea and 14 residents had complained, said The Vales chief executive Neil Pahuja, who is also on the board of the Aged Care Industry Association.
While he admitted the meal “doesn’t look great”, he said the facility “provided a high-quality service” that included good food.
It was presented poorly,” he said. “Fourteen people decided they didn’t want it, so they got Caesar salad, veggies or sandwiches.”
The facility provides a range of meals throughout the day, including roasts, and residents can change their meals at any time – the baked beans and mash was chosen by residents who have trouble chewing.
“We just give them the meal they want. It’s not restrictive, it’s not limited,” he said.
He said the facility would work to serve evening meals in a more appetising way.
The picture has again highlighted the broader issue of poor food in aged care facilities around Australia.
Ms Cook said nothing but the biggest fuss was acceptable for aged care residents at Christmas.
“I think people who are left at the facility should have a big fuss because you’re their family,” she said.
“You’ve got to do the work behind the scenes. They have worked and lived their lives. They don’t deserve this in their twilight years. It’s completely distressing to see muck like that served up.”
A previous University of Melbourne study has shown that 68 per cent of aged care residents were malnourished, or at risk of malnutrition.
Aged care chef and expert on texture-modified food (TMF) Tibor Paller said the budget for food across the industry is too low.
“Facilities have a very low budget – it’s $6.80, the daily food spend.
“You have to cook breakfast, lunch, dinner and morning and afternoon tea in between.”
“It can be easily done better. They need to spend more and hire better-quality people. Mashed potato and baked beans, they can do so much more than that. It’s disgusting.”
Catering for a diet where residents can’t chew is hard but can easily be done.
With a little bit more money, aged care facilities could make texture-modified food that looks similar to real food, and is fresh, he said.
“Right now we have a flawed system with TMF, where we utilise kitchen returns,” Mr Paller said.
“This is not how we should be treating our residents. We should preserve their humanity right up until the end.”