Meals on Wheels is Effective in Many Ways

By John O’Neill

I’ve worked more than 40 years for two non-profit agencies that offer Meals on Wheels, and I feel something needs to be said about the Trump Administration budget director’s comment that cuts in Meals on Wheels for seniors are justified, since the program has not proven to be effective.

My current agency makes daily deliveries that include special meals for diabetics, those with renal disease, those with heart conditions, pureed meals for those with aphasia and other ailments, vegetarian meals, gluten-free meals, as well as special meals for various ethnic populations, and regular hot meals for those whose physical condition makes it difficult for them to prepare a meal for themselves.

SCES Executive Director John O’Neill

For a number of these people, it’s their only hot meal of the day, and the deliverer the only person that they might see that day.

Every national study– without exception to my knowledge– done on the program has stated these home-delivered meals have value nutritionally and for the overall health of the recipients, and also financial benefit, because it prevents the need for more costly services.

Hardly a year goes by at our agency where a driver has not found a person on the floor who has been there for hours or– if the fall happened on the weekend– even longer, without being able to get up on their own.  Any meal that can’t be delivered directly to an elder– if they don’t come to the door for whatever reason–leads to a call to that elders’ emergency contact, and if they can’t be reached or aren’t aware of the elder having a conflicting appointment, a wellness check is made by a police officer.

A recent medical journal article acknowledged the benefits of Meals on Wheels and urged physicians to work with meals programs to train drivers to observe any deterioration in an elder’s condition, so that emergency room visits can be eliminated in some situations.

In the interest of acknowledging a personal interest that complements my professional interest, my mother, age 94, looks forward to her Meals on Wheels, especially since she can no longer safely use a stove.

My family has found Meals on Wheels to be effective. I strongly suspect that sentiment is shared by many of 2.4 million Americans aged 60-and-up served by the program.

Contrary to the budget director’s statement, there’s ample evidence Meals on Wheels is indeed effective at supporting health and well-being.

John O’Neill is Executive Director of Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services, a non-profit agency that supports the independence and well-being of older people in Somerville and Cambridge.