For over two decades, the Australian aged care sector has encountered numerous challenges, particularly in the realm of food and nutrition.
The recent Royal Commission in 2021 brought to light significant concerns, including the alarming rate of malnutrition, the necessity for increased and quality food shortages, and the importance of human-centred approaches to senior care.
As the elderly population grows, the demand for more food fortification strategies will rise with it. In this blog, we examine the nutrition challenges facing the aged care industry, and some possible solutions to deliver essential nutrition support.
Misunderstanding Seniors' nutrition needs
Advocates fighting for improvements in the aged care industry have voiced concerns about the existing limited knowledge of the nutrition needs of aged care residents.
For those pushing for change, the issue arguably stems from a disconnect between education and training regarding senior nutrition, and the often complex needs of residents entering aged care.
This issue is a multifaceted one, originating from a misunderstanding of the differing nutrition needs seniors have from the younger general public, and a lack of adequate staff training at an individual facility level.
As a result, malnutrition is rife in aged care facilities around Australia. Some reports suggest that up to 50% of residents may be malnourished or at risk, although recent data on malnutrition rates in this setting are scarce.
Australian Government. Final Report: Care, Dignity and Respect; Australian Government: Canberra, Australia, 2021.
Gaskill, D.; Black, L.J.; Isenring, E.A.; Hassall, S.; Sanders, F.; Bauer, J.D. Malnutrition prevalence and nutrition issues in residential aged care facilities. Australas. J. Ageing 2008, 27, 189–194.
Addressing these challenges will take a concerted effort from multiple directions. It will require improvements in education and training, a recommendation that both tertiary and private education institutions are taking on. At an individual facility level, the change needs to come from aged care management making concerted efforts to improve the quality of food being served to seniors. These food choices need to be small and easily consumable to match senior reduced appetite and potential eating limitations, while also being rich in protein, energy, and nutrients.
Food fortification to address malnutrition
The challenges of addressing the issue of malnutrition cannot be solved by one individual meal supplement or provider alone.
Instead, it will take a holistic nutrition approach that incorporates nutrition support strategies and the suppliers passionate about delivering them.
This is where food fortification comes in. Food fortification is a food-first nutrition support strategy that involves adding nutrient-dense ingredients such as cream, milk powder, or supplement powder to food and beverages, without increasing the portion size.
While there are no best practice guidelines for implementing food fortification in aged care facilities, the versatility of the strategy does require a variety of ingredients from numerous foods and beverages to hit nutrition markers for the elderly.
This is where value-aligned food services can play a vital role in individual aged care facilities.
Senior nutrition support through mission-aligned food services
Food services play a critical role in the nutritional care of residents. As the latest Royal Commission results revealed, there is a pressing need for sustainable strategies that aged care facilities can adopt with relative ease.
There are several important factors that businesses need to carefully consider when selecting which broker to work with. For example, some brokers maintain dedicated practice groups that work exclusively with organisations from particular industries. Others have created unique placement facilities or insurance schemes that leverage the group buying power of organisations from the same sector to achieve more competitive pricing and greater levels of cover for their clients.
Some brokers have created their own exclusive insurance products that are often developed to address the unique needs of organisations from a specific industry, while others rely on standard, “off-the-shelf” insurer products that require a series of endorsements to meet their clients needs. Different brokers have invested heavily in the digital and technology space. They can provide clients access to secure online applications that offer many benefits while others continue using more traditional forms of client engagement and communication.
Another area to consider is what, if any, ‘hidden’ or undisclosed fees a broker may be earning. Brokers will often collect additional commission/brokerage when placing a client's business or have incentive-based remuneration models in place with insurers (e.g. profit shares, contingent commissions, volume bonuses, etc.). Others have developed and utilise mandatory quoting platforms that generate extra income for their business, which can discourage them from seeking quotes from outside insurers who do not subscribe to such platforms.
Many brokers also like to brag about the endless array of services they offer, but the question is: how will these resources be deployed, and at what cost? A broker’s performance is only as good as the individuals overseeing your account. And while a broker’s credentials, experience, industry knowledge, depth of resources and market relationships are all important, they add little to no value if they are not utilised correctly.
Finding and working with the right broker can deliver significant benefits; however, partnering with the wrong broker can have dire consequences. Poor broker performance can derail the stability of any business in the unfortunate event of a large loss that is not adequately insured. Significant financial loss, legal liabilities, loss of assets, reputational damage, loss of customers – these are just some of the many consequences that can result from having inadequate insurance cover, not to mention the premium capital that has already been wasted.
Overall, the insurance you purchase (a significant expense for many businesses) is there to protect you, and your broker is there to make your life easier and ensure your insurance is cost-effective and provides you with the necessary protection you need. For this reason, it is important for any business to test the insurance broker market regularly, and there is no better way to test the market and compare the intricate offerings of a group of brokers than a well-run Request for Proposal (RFP) process.
A well-constructed RFP process can deliver multiple benefits. It can be an excellent corporate governance exercise that allows you to test multiple vendors all at once in a fair, open, and transparent environment. You drive and control the process, and (if structured correctly) it can be a highly effective way of determining the strengths and weaknesses of your existing insurance strategies.
The primary goal of any RFP is to find the best partner to work with – someone who demonstrates a deep understanding of your industry and needs. However, many RFPs fall over or fail to deliver the results that the company sets out to achieve, not through a lack of effort, but more often than not, because of a flawed process that was destined to fail from the outset. Working with an experienced, independent tender consultant is a highly effective way to overcome this. Their experience and knowledge can be invaluable and ensure you achieve the best outcomes when running an RFP exercise.
Ultimately, the value in finding and working with the right insurance broker can be immeasurable, so companies should take the time to make sure they are not wasting valuable time and money on an unreliable or underperforming broker.
We have spent the past decade running carefully constructed RFP projects that ensure our clients enjoy a strong, successful working relationship with a broker that has the experience, knowledge, and technical proficiency necessary to deliver the best the market has to offer.
Elevate aged care nutrition
Solving the challenge of providing adequate nutrition in the Australian aged care sector requires a multifaceted approach.
Sustainable food fortification strategies promise to help tackle the problem of malnutrition, but they need the right food services partners to deliver them consistently and reliably to facilities.
For aged facilities focused on the health and wellbeing of their residents, engaging a food services expert in the aged care sector is key to long-term success.
The team at Procurement Australia has over 15 years of experience delivering food service solutions in the aged care sector. Contact us today to learn how our Food Service Solution can dramatically improve the nutrition outcomes for the seniors under your care.
Byles, J.; Perry, L.; Parkinson, L.; Bellchambers, H.; Moxey, A.; Howie, A.; Murphy, N.; Galliene, L.; Courtney, G.; Robinson, I.; et al. Encouraging Best Practice Nutrition and Hydration in Residential Aged Care; Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing: Canberra, Australia, 2009.