VA Health Care:

Food Service Operations and Costs at Inpatient Facilities

HEHS-00-17: Published: Nov 19, 1999. Publicly Released: Nov 19, 1999.

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Stephen P. Backhus
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) food service operations, focusing on: (1) the type and volume of food services VA provides; (2) how VA provides food services; (3) the cost VA incurs; and (4) the revenues VA generates from sales of excess food services.

GAO noted that: (1) VA provides a variety of food services to meet the widely varying needs of patients; (2) for example, patients frequently need specialized food services, such as diet-restricted meals, snacks for special conditions like diabetes, and liquid nourishment for those unable to eat solid food; (3) most hospital patients need food delivery to their bedside; (4) many nursing home residents also require food service in their rooms, although a larger portion of nursing home patients eat in congregate dining areas; (5) the volume of food service at individual locations also varies, with most locations serving between 100 and 400 patients a day, although 25 percent serve less than 100 patients a day; (6) in fiscal year (FY) 1998, VA employees provided food services at 172 of 175 VA inpatient locations; private contractors provided food services at the 3 remaining locations; (7) VA-operated food service locations buy most of their food supplies from prime vendors who provide discounts for high-volume purchases; (8) VA-furnished meals and snacks include food cooked from scratch; pre-prepared foods that are purchased; and food cooked in advance and chilled for later use; (9) VA locations also use traditional and advanced food delivery methods to maintain proper temperatures when food is distributed; (10) the mix of these methods varies by location; (11) VA spent about $429 million on inpatient food services in FY 1998; (12) of this amount, VA spent about $337 million to produce and distribute inpatient food and nourishments, with the rest for patient-related activities such as nutrition needs assessment and counseling; (13) about 72 percent of production and distribution costs were for the wages and benefits of about 7,348 full-time-equivalent wage-rate employees; (14) VA's daily food service production and delivery costs averaged about $24.50 per patient, with individual locations' daily costs ranging between $8 to $51 per patient; (15) the range in costs partly reflects the range in nutritional needs, which are generally less in domiciliaries than in hospital and nursing home settings; (16) in FY 1998, 27 VA locations generated modest revenues of $739,000 by using excess food capacity to produce food service for 44 non-VA organizations; and (17) most sales were to private, nonprofit organizations; the other VA sales were primarily to federal, state, and local government agencies.

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