Better meals under the Nazis, 87-year-old says

By Eileen Goodwin

An example of a meals on wheels dinner. Photo / Christine Cornege
An example of a meals on wheels dinner. Photo / Christine Cornege

A Dunedin woman says she had better food growing up in a Nazi-occupied country than the "disgusting'' meals on wheels trucked from Auckland and Tauranga.

Petronella Wennekes (87) cancelled the service last Friday. She felt she had no choice given the quality of the meals.

The trucked and frozen meals are reheated before delivery under a controversial 15-year outsourcing deal between Southern District Health Board and Compass Group.

The Otago Daily Times reported on Saturday that fears have emerged about the viability of the volunteer delivery system run by Age Concern Otago, because of cancellations and shrinking delivery runs.

Two weeks ago, Compass started trucking meals from the North Island. Mrs Wennekes said the watery and soft vegetables formed a mush, including "soft'' roast potatoes.

"It was disgusting.''

Lumpy desserts stuck to their cardboard packaging, and she had been unable to scrape them into a bowl.

"When I was young, I lived in Holland.

"I've been through five years of war in Holland, and the occupation from the Germans, and I never ate anything like this.''

She feared many older people would not speak up.

"There are a lot of other elderly who can't speak up for themselves. They will sit there and swallow it.''

Aileen Baker (89), of Dunedin, said she was likely to cancel the "dreadful'' meals. Her neighbour received St Barnabas Trust meals on wheels, which were excellent but more expensive than the health board service. Mrs Baker was considering her options.

"I've never complained in my life about anything.''

The meals were not supposed to be reheated, but Mrs Baker was doing so anyway, as she was used to eating a portion later in the day. Anne Marie Parsons (74), of Dunedin, said she had no choice but to continue with the meals, as at $5 a day they were cheaper than alternatives.

She said the meals had shrunk in size and deteriorated in quality.

She did not expect a "banquet'' but wanted decent, reasonable food. Ms Parsons, who was an opponent of the outsourcing decision, said trucking the meals from the North Island was a stupid idea from the start.

Valerie Webb (83), of Dunedin, said the meals were "unbelievably awful''.

She and her husband were considering options. Comments on the ODT Facebook page suggested alternative options for ready-made meals, and some believed there was an opportunity for a new service involving partnerships between Dunedin community groups and businesses.

Last week, Compass issued a statement saying it welcomed feedback and would make changes if there were "genuine problems''.

The company has encouraged people to take time to try the new menu it was offering.

The health board is staying tight-lipped over how many people cancelled the service recently, saying it was working with Compass during the "transition phase''.

The health board and the defunct Health Benefits Ltd promised before last year's 15-year contract approval that the new meals would be nutritionally superior to the existing service.

When the concept was devised, there were hopes it would become a nationwide DHB food service, which has not happened.

In the South Island, only Southern and Nelson Marlborough health boards have signed up to the scheme so far, while four boards (including three in Auckland) have signed up in the North Island.

Patient meals are also affected, but they involve more on-site preparation in the Dunedin Hospital kitchen, which has been downgraded with fewer staff and less on-site preparation.

- Otago Daily Times

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