New wheelchair fees for care home seniors slammed

Fraser Health says new $25 a month charge in line with provincial practice

Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington

B.C.’s lone independent MLA says it’s “absolutely outrageous” that Fraser Health will charge seniors in residential care homes a $25 monthly fee for the use of wheelchairs that until now have been provided for free.

Vicki Huntington blew the whistle on the new charge Thursday shortly after one of her Delta South constituents came into her office brandishing a notification letter from the health authority.

“It’s just beyond the pale,” Huntington said, demanding health officials scrap the plan to begin charging the wheelchair rental fee Sept. 1 in publicly funded care homes.

“To make you pay for what is an essential component of your health care in your latter years is absolutely outrageous,” she said.

“It’s like saying you have to rent your prosthetic leg from us on a monthly basis. It’s something that has to be reconsidered and reconsidered immediately.”

Fraser Health spokesperson Tasleem Juma called it a “nominal fee” for specialized custom wheelchairs that typically cost $1,000 to $3,500 and rent privately for $75 to $100.

The fee will go to maintain the cushions, wheels and ensure the wheelchairs remain in good working order.

Private care homes charge “much higher” amounts or require residents to purchase their own wheelchairs, Juma added.

She said lower-income care home residents who are exempted from MSP premiums or are on disability benefits are automatically exempt from the wheelchair fee and it can be waived in other cases where hardship is demonstrated.

Similar fees are already charged at other B.C. health authorities and Vancouver Coastal confirmed a $25 fee will be charged at care homes in that health region as well.

Fraser Health estimates 60 per cent of residential care home residents use wheelchairs provided by the facility.

“The objective here is obviously not to cause residents any hardship, anxiety or stress,” Juma said. “It’s to bring Fraser Health into line with provincial policy.”

The province’s Home and Community Care Policy Manual was updated last October and indicates residents “may” be charged for wheelchairs and various other personal use items.

Health ministry spokesman Ryan Jabs confirmed the fees are discretionary.

“It was not really prescriptive but the understanding was that facilities would be charging a certain amount for wheelchairs,” he said.

Huntington said it’s unacceptable, regardless of whether the province or Fraser Health is responsible.

“If it’s a provincial policy the province ought to be absolutely ashamed of itself,” she said. “I hope Fraser Health reconsiders and I hope the province steps in.”

Seniors in publicly funded care homes already pay 80 per cent of their net income to the facility, she said, and are left with a comfort fund of $200 a month for shampoo and other incidentals.

“This $25 will come out of that,” Huntington said. “I just find the whole thing indicative of the way health is being managed at some of these facilities.”