Meal quality at Vancouver care centre sparks call for change


VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Mushy bananas and mystery meat are unacceptable items to be serving to our most vulnerable people in care, says a family member raising concerns over the food and care at long-term residential centres.

Leigh Eliason says her father, William Salhany, who is a diabetic quadriplegic living at Vancouver’s George Pearson Centre, has been sending her photos of the “slop” residents are expected to survive on and she’s been unable to deliver him healthy meals since March.

“[Before COVID-19] it fell on family members much of the time to do certain things for our loved ones that were being neglected or not overseen; to pay attention to the small details that if you don’t, if you’re not checking on them every day, they just kind of don’t get taken care of,” she explains.

The problem isn’t confined to one centre, she says, adding her father was in a number of hospitals before he landed at GPC.

“And the food was terrible everywhere. This is a big problem. We have yet to see anything that’s palatable in terms of diet recommendations, like, my father is diabetic and so it is imperative, it’s for everybody, to be nourished properly. But for him, for diabetics, he has to have a special diet.

“We’re just relying on word of mouth from our loved ones . . . My dad is in Pearson with a few people that are non-verbal, they’re not even able to convey what they’re experiencing. And the things that my dad reported back are just, it breaks my heart to think that my dad and so many people are in this situation,” says Eliason.

“The banana is pretty terrible. It was almost a black banana. The inside looked mushy, like somebody had just smashed it up. They served him some sort of beef dish. And it was just like plain frozen carrots that were boiled next to, it looked like boiled meat, almost … No seasoning, no sauces, like a dry plate,” she says.

“I can’t imagine anybody that would want to eat that fish. That is a mystery. Nobody knows what it is … I could not imagine eating it, let alone serving it to people that are already struggling so much and are powerless to do anything with their circumstances.”

Eliason is calling for a full audit or investigation into care facilities across the country, saying the COVID-19 pandemic has pulled back the curtains on how we treat and house those with complex needs.

“It’s really shedding light on what our elders and what our disabled people are experiencing everyday. Something’s got to change. Something has got to change,” she says.

“These people have lived their entire lives to be put in a place where they are fed slop. I mean, it looks like it came out of a dog food can. And I’m not even exaggerating. I’m just lost for words … and I don’t even understand how anybody can serve this to a human being.”

She says it feels more like her father is in a prison than a care home and there have been nights he’s had to go hungry because of the low quality or quantity of food.

“He would call us before and say, please bring me something decent to eat. And of course, we would,” she says. “He might be able to have an old sandwich or something they might have laying around in the freezer or the fridge or whatever.”

‘Swept under the rug’

After just two years in the facility, which houses people with the most complex disabilities as well as some people with drug addictions, Salhany and his family have now spoken out twice about conditions at George Pearson Centre.

Salhany previously raised concerns that disabled residents have been bullied and harassed by residents who are more able-bodied drug users.

Many residents at GPC have severe mobility issues and are non-verbal or unable to protect themselves or speak out against potential abuses.

“I feel like this problem has been swept under the rug for so long,” says Eliason, explaining her family has been desperately seeking help at every turn.

She says they’ve expressed concerns to Vancouver Coastal Health, the Ministry of Health, the province’s seniors’ advocate and every other avenue they’ve been directed to within that system.

“They’re kind of going up the chain. The problem is the chain is linked to itself. It’s sort of like a wheel. You just keep going around in circles until you’re back to the beginning. I don’t know who is running this ship. It’s like this ship is steering itself in stormy seas and nobody’s driving, there’s nobody right?”

According to the B.C. Ministry of Health, residents concerned about the quality of care or nutrition can talk to the long-term care home leadership and also the health authority in their jurisdiction.

“A complaint resolution process through the Patient Care Quality Office can ultimately help review issues for people in long-term care,” the ministry adds.

Meanwhile, Vancouver Coastal Health says it’s “committed to the health and well-being of everyone in our care, and we believe that healthy, nutritious meals are an important element of that care.”

However, VCH adds the site menu at GPC “meets Lower Mainland Nutrition Standards,” with residents usually allowed to make meal selections.

“Menus are developed by a team of dietitians and red seal chefs and reviewed regionally by health authority dietitians to ensure adequacy,” VCH says in an email to NEWS 1130. “The majority of the meals are made from fresh ingredients in the kitchen at GPC by chefs and kitchen aids.”

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