More than a year after the publication of the book The Gravediggers and the excitement caused by the Orpea scandal, has the situation really changed in nursing homes? According to the magazine “60 million consumers”, which questioned nearly 250 residents of retirement homes and their loved ones, the conditions of stay there are still problematic to say the least. When it comes to food, in particular. Pinned down for malnutrition, the Orpea establishments would not be an isolated case. As recalled in the monthly published by the National Consumer Institute (INC), France has two million undernourished people, including around 30% residents in nursing homes.
Overall, the residents surveyed judge the daily meals to be “rather balanced”, which is corroborated by the dietitians contacted by the magazine's editorial team. It's on the flavor side that the problem lies. The responses from residents and their loved ones are “frankly negative” when it comes to appreciating the taste dimension of the dishes offered in nursing homes. Mixed meals, in particular, are described as “unappetizing”, or even “ineatable mush”. A problem when we know that some residences choose to mix all their meals, in order to save time. “It is faster to spoon-feed several people at the same time than to cut their meat and wait for them to chew,” explains the monthly. When offered to all residents, including those who do not have swallowing difficulties, mixed meals have a deleterious impact on the appetite and therefore on the health of seniors.
The survey also highlights the discrepancy, sometimes obvious, between the menu indicated and the dishes served. Supporting photos, the monthly refers to “shapeless flans”, “colorless plates”, “without the slightest sprig of parsley or chives” to brighten up the contents. If the picture is bleak, seniors have no other choice but to be satisfied with it: only a third of respondents would be able to request an alternative meal. Upon arrival, many of them “never” finish their plates (23%), which exposes them to serious risks of malnutrition. However, as a dietitian points out, “contrary to popular belief, aging increases energy needs, due to poorer metabolic performance”.
However, many nursing homes continue to reduce their meal trays. Of course, there are official weights for fast food... But the residences are free to design the menus in their own way. “For example, a soup, depending on whether water or milk is added, will not provide the same caloric portion,” illustrates a doctor. This rationing, sometimes drastic, can be explained by a “deficit budget”. Very often, it is the “search for profitability” that motivates private nursing homes to reduce their catering costs. Public or associative establishments, whose “accommodation” budget is controlled by the departments, are being hit hard by inflation. “When we have 11% inflation on food products and only 1% increase on the accommodation budget in certain departments, this amounts to requiring the manager to save on everything,” laments an association president. Beyond the reduced portions, the monthly also points out the nighttime fasting time imposed on residents, often longer than the maximum threshold recommended for the elderly (12 hours).
To remedy this worrying situation, 60 Millions de consommateurs recommends several measures, including systematic monitoring of residents' weight and “medical care in the event of persistent weight loss”. The monthly also calls on residences to make an effort to present meals, to offer a greater diversity of dishes as well as an alternative menu. Finally, communities and the State are invited to put their hands in their wallets: “we are asking for an increased contribution from communities and the State to the accommodation budget, currently financed to the tune of 40 to 60% by the resident”, claims the editorial staff.