Dr. Eileen Wong Reduces Waste by Increasing LTC Residents’ Satisfaction with their Meals
As a physician, Dr. Eileen M. Wong thought there was little she could do to improve the quality of life for the elderly long-term care (LTC) residents at Holy Family Hospital in South Vancouver. Then she noticed that after meals, trays were often barely touched and at times her patients openly voiced that they didn’t enjoy eating the food served.
With three meals served each day, a lot of food was going to waste because residents found the taste, temperature, or texture of the food unappealing. On average 38 per cent of lunch entrées were left uneaten.
Eileen’s hypothesis was that if the food was more enjoyable for residents, they would eat more of it. “I saw an opportunity to take their food experience from mediocre to outstanding,” says Eileen. Moreover, improving residents’ experience of food at Holy Family Hospital LTC was a big chance to reduce food waste.
Food waste is an issue that is personal to Eileen. “I grew up in a socially disadvantaged household where we never wasted food because we could not afford to waste it,” she shares. As a child, Eileen learned about the importance of recycling and it’s something she has never lost sight of.
For the Food Quality Improvement project at Holy Family Hospital LTC, Eileen mobilized the long-term care team and volunteers with the goal of decreasing residents’ food-related complaints by 20 per cent. They started with a study to understand why patients left their food uneaten; there were two key findings:
- Lunch was served so soon after breakfast, that many residents were simply not hungry, and;
- The taste of the food and eating with others were the most important factors to residents’ enjoyment of their meals.
Using this data-driven approach, the long-term care team adjusted portion sizes, making lunch smaller and dinner larger while keeping the daily calories the same. The team also trialled lipped plates with residents who had difficulty scooping food into their mouths.
As a result, amongst the cognitively intact, entrée wastage was reduced by half. And contrary to what the team would have expected, there was an increase in dietitian referrals as patients became more empowered to advocate for their food-related needs.
“We need to listen more to our patients and LTC residents about their food experience,” says Eileen. Many of the elderly patients that she cares for are not mobile and have limited social interactions, but food can be a daily pleasure, if prepared thoughtfully. She recognizes it is not easy to make changes in a complex system, but she knows there are solutions if people work together. “Gather a team of like-minded people and ask for input and suggestions!
If food is medicine and food for the soul, we need better food for patients and residents! Together, we can find a solution to ‘awful hospital food.’”
Today, she continues to engage dietitians and nursing clinical leaders to identify ways to reduce food waste while improving residents’ satisfaction with their food. After all, her patients are her inspiration. Several residents were part of the project pilot and sadly passed away during the hospital’s 2020 COVID-19 outbreak. “This project is dedicated to them.”