Nova Scotia

Halifax hospital patients waiting hours for food under new system

Some Halifax hospital patients are waiting hours for meals under a new food system, but the health authority says it will take a couple weeks for things to smoothen out.

'You feel trapped and anxious. You really feel concerned for your well-being physically'

Some patients at the Halifax Infirmary say their food is taking hours to be delivered under a new system. (CBC)

Some Halifax hospital patients are waiting hours for meals under a new food system, but the health authority says it will take time for things to smoothen out.

Wanda Burrill-Kowalczyk said she has been in the cardiac unit of the QEII Health Sciences Centre's Halifax Infirmary for a few days.

Burrill-Kowalczyk said herself and the people in her room were finding that, while delicious, all their meals were taking an extra long time to arrive.

"You're waiting four and five hours for each meal. And also a lot of the orders are mixed up and the food is cold," Burrill-Kowalczyk said Sunday from hospital.

She said the patients were told the Nova Scotia Health Authority was rolling out a new food-delivery service in the hospital, and there were logistical issues with distributing food.

The service replaces the previous system where a patient had to choose their meals a day or two in advance.

Issues with placing orders

In her case, Burrill-Kowalczyk was on a heart-healthy diet where she could choose from a menu of "beautiful food" under the new system. Ideally, she was supposed to call a certain number from her phone, and someone would come to collect her order on a computer tablet. 

But Burrill-Kowalczyk said the phone number was consistently busy, or redirected to another line where she was told she had the wrong number.

"It just sort of snowballs from there to waiting and waiting," she said. Often, she said, it took up to four hours before the right person could be reached.

On Saturday night, Burrill-Kowalczyk said she didn't get any food until 9:30 p.m., and when it arrived it was cold and not the meal she had ordered. She waited another 45 minutes to get the right food.

The Halifax Infirmary building at the QEII hospital.

Burrill-Kowalczyk said she was surprised that, during the 2020 pandemic, a hospital would start a system where staff members physically come to each patient and take their food orders.

Not only is Burrill-Kowalczyk hungry while waiting for her meals, she said the situation has a medical impact.

Since Burrill-Kowalczyk has to eat before taking her heart medication, she said she "crashed" physically and her blood pressure spiked, when her breakfast on Saturday morning was two hours late.

"You feel trapped and anxious. You really feel concerned for your well-being physically because you feel like, you know, there's no remedy," Burrill-Kowalczyk said.

The dietary staff have apologized "profusely" as they work through the new system, Burrill-Kowalczyk said, and the nurses have been kind and helpful, although there's really nothing they can do.

Authority says time needed to adjust

Wendy Walters, spokesperson with the Nova Scotia Health Authority, said in an email Sunday that they are "very excited" to be rolling out a room-service dining model for patients at the QEII. 

The hospital is getting a high volume of orders at the same time "due to the popularity of the new menu and service," Walters said

"Unfortunately, there have been a few complaints from patients who are getting their meals too late. The team has been in touch with those patients and families to apologize for the inconvenience," she said.

"We are only in the first few days of the new model of meal delivery and expect that it will take a couple of weeks for patients and staff to adjust and fully embrace this major change."

Walters said the same room service model began at the IWK a few years ago, and has been rolling it out at facilities across the province.

The health authority told CBC in 2018 they hoped to originally roll out the new food delivery model at the Infirmary last spring.

With files from Melissa Friedman