Pilot provides free meal delivery to patients recovering at home

After his discharge from the Grey Nuns Community Hospital, John Berry didn’t have to worry about making his own meals when he returned to his one-bedroom home in Edmonton.

For a month after he was discharged, John, who lives alone, had a complimentary meal delivered every day, thanks to a pilot program operated by Edmonton Meals on Wheels and the Grey Nuns Community Hospital and funded by a Government of Alberta grant.

Called Going Home!, the program, which launched in October 2019, aims to help patients like John bridge the transition from hospital to home by providing them with up to 30 consecutive days of complimentary meal delivery.

On the day we visited with John, he was waiting by the door to his building, aided by his walker, anticipating the arrival of his food. That day’s fare was cream of broccoli soup with sausage and chicken jambalaya, roasted zucchini and sautéed greens. 

John’s meal from Meals on Wheels

“This program has been very helpful to me,” said John, adding that the generous-sized single meal would feed him not just for lunch but for dinner too. Participants like John get the option of a lunch or dinner package that is customized according to their dietary needs.

Receiving a nutritious meal that just needs to be reheated in the microwave isn’t all that John appreciates about this program. The friendly 72-year-old likes getting visitors, even if the visits are brief. Meals on Wheels volunteer John Isbister has delivered to John’s residence before and is a familiar face. Though John had seven other meal deliveries to make that day, he stayed to provide some company.

“My mother used to be on the Meals on Wheels program, so I know what it’s like for people who rely on this service,” said John, who added that this is a fulfilling way to give back.

According to Edmonton Meals on Wheels executive director Liz Tondu, one of the project’s goals, besides taking the stress out of mealtimes for participants during their convalescence at home, is to increase social connections and minimize feelings of loneliness.

To ensure that the program is helping the people for whom it is intended, a carefully designed selection process begins at the hospital. A social worker, along with a dietitian, assesses a patient’s eligibility for the program, and the dietitian determines a patient’s ability to plan and prepare a healthy menu while recovering.

Those eligible must also be 60 years or older; live with minimal family and caregiver support in metro Edmonton; have compromised mobility; and be able to read instructions, heat up the meal in a microwave and feed themselves independently.

Participants must also be a recent patient on one of the medicine units at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital, the only Edmonton hospital participating in the pilot. The Grey Nuns hospital was selected because it has previously been a strong community partner and collaborator with Edmonton Meals on Wheels, says Liz, who hopes the two-and-a-half-year pilot will have helped a total of 125 participants upon completion.

While John’s 30-day complimentary meal delivery program has ended, he is continuing with the program at his own expense, at a subsidized rate.

He said that although he is capable of making his own meals like chili and goulash — using ingredients from the groceries that he and his son go every weekend to buy — nothing beats the convenience of having a well-balanced meal delivered to his home.   

“All the drivers are friendly and helpful, and I love the scalloped potatoes!”  

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