Where to now for Meals on Wheels?
Professor Jeni Warburton, Chair of Rural Aged Care Research at La Trobe University, will explore potential new approaches to ensuring that Meals on Wheels continue providing nutritious meals and basic social contact to the elderly and disabled.
Talking today at the Regional Conference of Gerontology and Geriatrics in Melbourne, Professor Warburton says the main threat is the service’s reliance on volunteers to cook and deliver meals.
“Like many other services, Meals on Wheels is floundering in its attempts to recruit new volunteers and retain existing ones, seriously threatening the organisation’s viability,” she says.
She says that some countries are putting in place some novel ideas to maintain the program.
“In Canada for instance, the challenges of people living in rural and remote areas has rsulted in snowmobiles being used to deliver meals.
“Other ares are looking at young people becoming involved and delivering meals by bike, or school buses used not only to drop off the children but also meals along the way.”
Professor Warburton says that in Australia, services to Aboriginal communities are particularly fraught because of the long distances involved.
“The volunteer aspect of Meals on Wheels in Australia is very tricky because older volunteers are struggling with some of the new regulations, such as insurance, which may not cover older drivers and occupational health and safety may also challenge many who have been preparing and delivering meals for many years.”
“Meals on Wheels is a much-needed service which needs to find ways of adapting and innovating,” she says.
In Australia Meals on Wheels delivers to about 109,000 clients nationally and provides daily three-course meals costing between $6 and $10 each. The Federal Government provides $27 million in annual subsidies, about $1.80 a meal. The benefit to Australians who have Meals on Wheels delivered is about $400m annually. Poor nutrition in the elderly is costing the nation $1.7 billion a year, with malnourished older Australians at greater risk of hospital admissions, broken bones, cancer, heart disease, diabetes and premature admission to nursing homes.
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