“The decision to implement the wheelchair maintenance fee occurred after many discussions, some dating back to the end of 2012, and were part of a larger discussion regarding the general issue of charging of fees in residential care. The over-arching concern was the lack of consistency across the residential network of care, not just within Fraser Health, but the whole province. Residents in contracted facilities or in the community, faced one reality with regards to wheelchair purchases and rentals; while those in owned and operated facilities faced a very different one.
“Understanding that this decision would likely meet public resistance, we did not limit our decision-making because the decision is unpopular. We have a responsibility to all members of our community. Seniors living at home or in a contracted facility, are required to buy or rent their own wheelchairs, walkers or canes at considerable cost. However, seniors living in an owned and operated facility can borrow a wheelchair for personal use at no charge. To bring consistency, the maintenance fee is being introduced as of September 2013. We recognize that this may pose a financial burden to some residents, so a hardship waiver process has been established. Each case will be considered on an individual basis, but no senior requiring a wheelchair will be denied one.
“We will continue to maintain our existing stock of wheelchairs, but will require more as some of these will need to be retired and demand increases. It is also important to keep in mind that when a wheelchair goes from one person’s use to another, it must go through several infection control measures which can be costly.
“The intention has never been to cause stress or anxiety to our seniors, but to establish some consistency across the entire residential care network.”
The controversy was at the top of the list in Question Period on July 24 when NDP Leader Adrian Dix asked Health Minister Terry Lake a simple, straightforward question and got spin in return.
NDP Leader Adrian Dix: “Last month we learned the Fraser Health Authority will begin charging the Premier’s $300-a-year wheelchair tax on vulnerable seniors in residential care, taking advantage of a government policy change that enabled the tax. Today we learn that not only did the government enable the new tax on vulnerable seniors, it actually made it happen. A Fraser Health briefing note obtained through freedom of information shows: “The Ministry of Health requested Fraser Health to implement wheelchair maintenance fees.
“Can the Minister of Health confirm that in fact it was on the ministry’s instructions that Fraser Health decided to charge this uncaring tax, and can he further confirm if the ministry asked other health authorities to do the same?”
Health Minister Terry Lake: “I would remind the member opposite that British Columbia currently spends $1.7 billion every year to subsidize the province’s comprehensive residential care and assisted-living services. That is an increase of $600 million in the last 12 years.
“While residential care is a person’s home, and while the public health system covers the cost of medical and health care needs, residents pay for the cost of their personal equipment and supplies just as they would if they lived in the community, as I explained during estimates debate yesterday.
“But I will say this. No vulnerable senior citizen will be denied a service if they cannot afford a particular equipment or aid in a publicly subsidized residential care space in the province of British Columbia.”
What do you think? Are you a senior in care who uses a wheelchair? Are you a relative of a senior in care who uses a wheelchair? I want to hear from you. You may comment below or email me.
News and views on Vancouver 2010 (and beyond) from Bob Mackin.