Nova Scotia

Northwood residents say Nova Scotia must increase food funding

A long-term care facility in Halifax says cuts by the Nova Scotia government have forced them to chop their food spending to $5.40 a day per resident.

Difficult to create tasty, healthy meals with $5.40 a day, says administrator

Bob Enos says the low food budget means residents buy their own butter. (CBC)

A long-term care facility in Halifax says cuts by the Nova Scotia government have forced them to chop their food spending to $5.40 a day per resident.

Janet Simm, the president and CEO of Northwood, says the one per cent cut to their operating budget forced them to bite deeply into their food costs. Pre-cuts, they spent $940,000 on food for roughly 480 in-care residents. Now, they manage on $830,000.

Janet Simm credits her staff with working 'miracles' to turn a few dollars into three meals. (CBC)

That works out to $4.70 in provincial funding a day. Northwood cuts other corners to top that up to $5.40 a day for three meals and a snack.

​"Food is a huge part of quality of life," Simm said. "It's really difficult to do that at that price tag."

Quality of food is the same, says health minister

Health Minister Leo Glavine denied there are food quality issues at Northwood.

"Last week we had an unannounced visit and audit at Northwood," he said Tuesday.

"In conversations with residents and Northwood staff, they said the portions of food were the same as they've had for years, the quality of the food — absolutely no difference."

Nova Scotia Health Minister Leo Glavine said he's had conversations with residents and Northwood staff and they say there's been no difference in the quality of the food. (CBC)

Still, Simm says Northwood can only offer fresh fruit and vegetables regularly when they're in season, and turn to canned goods in the winter.

Simm says the cooks do the best they can, but it's hard to create tasty, healthy meals with $5.40 a day. 

"It's actually a miracle what they're able to produce with the dollars that they have," she said. "If we, for example, offer salmon on a day, that would consume more than half of our daily allotment for an individual." ​

'We encourage people to express their concerns'

Simm wants the government to increase funding. She figures with all of the bulk buying they do, they could provide healthy, tasty food with $8 or $10 per person.

"We hear about it when somebody hasn't seen a tomato in three or four days, or a week. We encourage people to express their concerns," she said.

Trudie Helmke says she asks herself, 'Why did I ever end up in here?' every time she sits down to eat. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

Trudie Helmke, 72, has lived in Northwood for over three years.

When she pulls up at the table, she thinks, "Oh my God, why did I ever end up here? Even when I could hardly cook for myself at home, I could at least put a piece of salmon in the pan and surround it by fresh vegetables and steam it for a few minutes and have a meal like that. And now that looks like gourmet."

Pasta is scarce, she says. Pork chops are a fond memory. The roast beef is an "over-cooked piece of tough meat" she says. Ketchup and mustard are on the house, but you'll have to pay for anything other than that.

"It's as if they're catering to people who like the blandest type of food. The menu repeats itself really really frequently, so you get the same things over and over again," she said.

Residents demand change

Vegetables are often canned, or overcooked. "They're catering to people with very poor teeth or dentures," said Helmke. "So everything has to be soft, except for the meat. The meat is tough."

She raised her children on a budget and knows it can still taste good. "I don't think I do have caviar and champagne taste. I mean, I would be happy with a tuna casserole or a bowl of chili," she said.

She's teaming up with other residents to demand change. She thinks people should be able to eat things like fresh fruit, vegetables and olive oil.

Fresh supplies can run scarce. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

Bob Enos, 70, moved into Northwood a couple of years ago. He loves a good taco or bowl of chili and says the Northwood food is the opposite of that.

"I like food that has flavour," he said. "If I was to pick one word, it would be bland."

He "circumvents" the system by buying his own butter. "Every time I go down there and buy a pound of butter, it's like yes, at least I can afford it," he said with a laugh.

'I think it shows a lack of understanding'

His grandson brings good coffee and Enos shares it widely.

"I think it shows a lack of understanding of the needs of the people here," he said.

"The stereotype of old people is that they drool pablum all over their face. That's not the fact. Maybe that's what the stereotype is when you get old and hope your dentures don't fall out."

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story compared the food funding at Northwood ($5.40 per day per person) to the food funding for prisoners ($10.62 per day per person). Provincial officials have confirmed that the actual cost of the food at the Burnside jail is $5.43 per day per person. The higher number includes the cost of labour.
    Aug 24, 2016 6:37 PM AT

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