By Pam Kiriakidis

Meals on Wheels Victoria is requesting urgent action to address shortfalls that are affecting vulnerable residents across the state. 

Rising costs in the system are resulting in people being left without the essential wellbeing checks that were once provided with a meal. 

The program has provided front-line service to more than 200,000 older Australians each year for over 65 years, across 525 locations.

Community health organisation Nexus Primary Health supply the service for Mitchell, Murrindindi and Strathbogie shires. 

The call for urgent action comes after a special report released last year, stating that in many areas of Victoria meals and services were regularly having to be curtailed.

Under the Commonwealth Home Support Program, CHSP, which took over in 2015, the Federal Government subsidy has increased over the past six years, with not-for-profit organisations reducing their provider contribution to ensure government subsidy and customer contribution covers the total cost of the meal and delivery – charging customers more than $15 per meal. 

Nexus Primary Health community services manager Tanya Christie said while some community organisations were outsourcing their programs, Nexus continued to source meals from hospitals such as Kilmore District Health, Seymour Health, and Euroa Health to deliver about 1600 meals a month. 

Ms Christie said remaining with local providers was a ‘conscious decision’ for Nexus to maintain a social connection with vulnerable residents who preferred a locally-produced hot meal.  

“We haven’t gone down the track of outsourcing our meals because we want to keep the integrity of what Meals on Wheels is all about.” she said. 

“Some people may only get Meals on Wheels, they may not get another service especially if they’re quite housebound … it’s just about making sure that they keep those social connections. 

“We’ve kept the model as it is, and we’ve tried to use local providers … but going forward, we’re not sure how viable that will be.” 

Ms Christie said the financial cost of the program was a huge threat, costing Nexus about $18 a meal with limited additional funding from the CHSP. 

Taking over Strathbogie and Murrindindi shires as part of their services from local governments in recent years, Ms Christie said the block funding had remained relatively the same, with $10 per meal from the State Government. 

“We’re in a situation where for many years Nexus just kept putting services in for people at our cost, but we haven’t had any substantial increases in our funding for many years,” she said. 

“This year, we’ve had to really cap going over our funding coming out of COVID. There have been big factors impacting our business, so when our funding runs out, that’s when unfortunately, we’ve had to close off some services to new clients.” 

Ms Christie said Meals on Wheels was not a ‘financially viable service’ for Nexus, as the purchase of the meal always exceeded the amount of funding provided. 

“If you look at it on paper financially, we’re always in the negative with what it costs us to purchase the meal and deliver the meals to clients and what we get from funding,” she said. 

Following the special report, Ms Christie said health networks and not-for-profit organisations were often choosing bulk food processing companies to hold on to their services financially.

“But this often comes at the cost of the quality of service – weekly or fortnightly food deliveries do not provide residents with regular social connections that you get from having regular delivered meals,” she said.

Meals on Wheels Victoria state manager Nelson Matthews said the Federal Government’s planned changes to in-home support programs was a jolt to the system and required urgent attention.