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Vets ask for audit of food amidst complaints about quality of meals at hospital

Veterans Affairs Minister Stephen Blaney in Halifax on April 3, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

HALIFAX - Some elderly residents of a veterans hospital in Halifax are asking that someone take a closer look at the food they're being served, claiming it is bland, overcooked, hard to eat and low on nutritional value.

Jack Walsh, an 84-year-old former member of the merchant navy, said he has raised the issue several times with officials at Camp Hill Veterans Memorial hospital but hasn't had much luck in improving the meals.

Walsh, who entered the hospital two years ago following a stroke and the death of his wife, said he expected the food would be akin to home-cooked meals, but finds it is often cold, tasteless and tough from being reheated 24 hours after it was cooked.

"You expect your food to be pleasant," he said, sitting in his wheelchair in the bright common room of his hospital wing.

"You know, our last days are here, we know that. We know the only way we're going to get out of here is to pass away, so we'd like to have something that would be appetizing and healthy."

Cliff Trites, a 90-year-old veteran who shuttled secret messages on a motorbike as a dispatch rider during the Second World War, moved into the hospital last March. He said he has lost 30 pounds since then because he finds the food "unpalatable."

Trites, now in a wheelchair because of the many "spills" he suffered during the war, said he goes out every week to buy cans of soup and fresh fruit to supplement or replace hospital fare.

Trites, who serves on the hospital's food committee with Walsh, said the veterans should have a separate kitchen to prepare their food since they are not temporary residents like some of the 1,200 people at other facilities in the city for whom the hospital kitchen cooks meals.

"This is our home ... and all we're asking for is a decent shake in relation to what services we get, in particular, the meals because I don't feel the meals being served are in keeping with what we should be getting," he said.

"If you have broccoli or cauliflower and it's reheated ... by the time we get that on our plate, it's nothing but mush. It's unpalatable completely."

Walsh said he wants the hospital to conduct an audit to look at how the food is prepared and whether it meets nutritional requirements, arguing that cooking food and then warming it a day later could diminish the nutrient content for the facility's roughly 175 residents.

The hospital, which is part of the QEII Health Sciences Centre, has a central kitchen that prepares meals for more than 1,000 patients and residents at seven facilities in the city.

Jane Pryor, director of hospitality services, said officials consult regularly with the veterans to develop a four-week, selective menu that includes food made "from scratch" on site and allows the residents at least two choices per meal.

"We have a very detailed menu planning criteria," she said, adding that they include locally-sourced foods when possible.

"We absolutely do nutrient analysis to make sure that they meet the nutritional needs of the individuals that they're served to."

Pryor said she wasn't approached about doing an audit, but would talk to Walsh about the possibility of conducting one.

She said food services receives a budget to provide food to the veterans, but that has to cover everything from dieticians, production staff, clean-up staff and other supplies, such as dishes and cutlery.

Pryor said that works out to $42 a day per veteran, with food comprising about $12 of that.

A spokesman for Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney said he has asked officials to speak with Capital Health to ensure residents are receiving proper care.

Walsh and Trites said they'd like more information on how federal funding is spent on their food, arguing there is probably enough to cover a chef for veterans only.

Peter Stoffer, the NDP's veterans affairs critic, said he agrees and has begun looking into the matter.

"Our veterans deserve the very best for the remainder of their lives and if they prefer to have their meals home-cooked, then I would tend to agree with them," he said.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2012
The Canadian Press

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