Councils ditch Meals on Wheels for weekly frozen food delivery

Councils ditch Meals on Wheels for weekly frozen food delivery

September 5, 2022

Talking points

  • Benalla and Shepparton residents used to receive Meals on Wheels deliveries but now get a weekly drop-off of frozen Lite n’ Easy meals.
  • Golden Plains Shire and Moorabool Shire residents have had their Meals on Wheels service replaced with a fortnightly frozen food drop-off.
  • Monash has used Lite n’ Easy for three years, City of Melbourne uses Mecwacare for weekly frozen meals and Hobson’s Bay is reviewing its delivery of Meals on Wheels.

Daily fresh meal deliveries by charity Meals on Wheels are being replaced with a once-a-week delivery of frozen food for some elderly residents, as Victorian councils continue to move away from providing aged care services.

The move has triggered fears that some residents may be left without regular social contact and those in need of greater care may forget to eat without a daily reminder.

Jan Forrest used to receive Meals on Wheels deliveries at her home in Shepparton but now gets a weekly drop-off of Lite n’ Easy frozen meals.Credit:Jason South

Sarah Russell, director of advocacy group Aged Care Matters, said the switch to weekly frozen meals failed to recognise the social importance and additional care the daily deliveries provided to some older people.

“It’s the regular contact and the social contact and the reminder to have your lunch when it arrives,” she said. “If you have to get your meal out of the freezer, you might forget.”

Residents in Benalla and Shepparton, in Victoria’s north, previously received meals from a council worker or volunteer, who checked on their wellbeing when they delivered the meals. But both councils now offer a box of frozen Lite n’ Easy meals once a week.

In Golden Plains and Moorabool shires, the council-run Meals on Wheels was also shelved this year and replaced with a once-a-fortnight frozen food delivery from provider Silverchain.

Councils including Hobson’s Bay in Melbourne’s south-west are considering the future of its Meals on Wheels service, while City of Melbourne and the City of Monash swapped to frozen deliveries several years ago.

Shepparton resident Jan Forrest used to receive Meals on Wheels deliveries, a service she said was “fabulous”, especially her favourite meal of roast pork, roast potatoes, onion gravy and crackling.

“It was great to have a volunteer knock on your door and give you a hot meal with a greeting and see you are alive and well,” the 75-year-old said. “Some had time to chat, but I’m not much of a chatter.”

Forrest and other Shepparton residents were told in June the council was ending its Meals on Wheels service and they would instead receive a weekly box of frozen Lite n’ Easy meals delivered by private provider Community Accessability.

“I am afraid there will be some who will go without meals because the new option is so limited.”

Forrest said she stopped using the service because she wanted to eat fresh fruit and vegetables.

She does not have the freezer space to store a week’s worth of food and was also concerned about the price, which she said had increased from $11.50 per meal to $15 for the Lite n’ Easy meal.

“I am afraid there will be some who will go without meals because the new option is so limited,” she said. “The social aspect of delivering the meal to customers meant a great deal to many, that’s gone too.”

Forrest said she has been able to manage without the service but was concerned that Lite n’ Easy was a weight-loss food company and not appropriate for vulnerable people.

Lite n’ Easy chief executive Dennis Stark said the company provided meals to about 500 elderly residents across Victoria and expected this number to increase.

“We have launched a new aged care range of meals branded as My Choice specifically nutritionally developed with high protein to meet the needs of older Australians with smaller appetites,” he said.

Stark said Lite n’ Easy’s preferred model was used in Monash, where Meals on Wheels volunteers delivered the meals, but the challenge in rural areas was distance and limited volunteer networks.

Louise Mitchell, director of community at Greater Shepparton City Council, said it had made an “operational decision” to cease providing Meals on Wheels, influenced by changing Australian government aged care policies.

“Many local governments have either ceased providing meals or are considering this,” she said.

Benalla Rural City Council did not respond to requests for comment.

Meals on Wheels estimates about 10,000 Victorian residents receive Meals on Wheels services regularly through a network of 5000 volunteers.

Meals on Wheels’ Victorian manager, Nelson Mathews, said he was concerned about the shift away from councils providing the service.

“The thing that really disturbs me is that these are their residents,” he said. “If anything, local government should be advocating for their residents to have the same level of service they have today.”

Mathews said it appeared Meals on Wheels was getting harder to access, was being delivered less frequently and the quality of meals had deteriorated in some cases.

The cancellation of Meals on Wheels services is part of a broader shift, with the Municipal Association of Victoria estimating that 23 councils around the state are discontinuing their aged care services or have already done so.

Councils are moving away from providing aged care services because the federal government is changing its funding model from block funding, in which councils get a set amount of money to provide services based on how many elderly people need support, to a consumer-directed model.

Meals on Wheels volunteer Al Wright delivers toilet paper to elderly resident Bob Kerslake in March 2020.Credit:Dallas Kilponen

Block funding is delivered through the Commonwealth Home Support Programme (CHSP) while consumer-directed funding is delivered through Home Care packages. The government will roll the two programs into one from 2024.

“If the federal government is going to be assigning contracts from local government to private providers, surely there should be an assurance that the same level of service will be maintained,” Mathews said.

Minister for Aged Care Mark Butler declined to comment.

A government spokesman said all CHSP providers were required to meet quality standards and deliver services in line with the government’s program manual.

“The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission monitors services in line with the Aged Care Quality Standards,” he said. “Older Australians can also submit complaints to the commission.”

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