Fraser Health has gone ahead and imposed a controversial $25 a month wheelchair rental fee at its 16 long-term care homes even though the neighbouring Vancouver Coastal Health Authority has decided to hold off.
Seniors have until now had free use of wheelchairs in publicly run residential care homes.
Fraser Health was the first B.C. health authority to notify residents in June that if they needed a wheelchair and didn't own one or rent one from another vendor, they would have to pay starting Sept. 1, unless they applied for and received a hardship waiver.
At that time it was expected the policy would be consistent province-wide.
Vancouver Coastal spokesman Gavin Wilson said residents there were about to also be notified of the change when a public backlash over the idea prompted the health ministry to embark on a review of all allowable fees.
"It raised the issue that there are a lot of inconsistencies not only between health authorities but even within health authorities about how these fees are applied," WIlson said.
Fraser Health spokesperson Tasleem Juma said the authority decided to proceed with the fee since more than 1,000 notifications had already been sent to residents in its facilities and some had completed forms or begun appying for hardship waivers.
"Rather than create confusion, we decided to say the wheelchair fee remains in place and continue the path of helping those who cannot afford it to go through the waiver process," she said.
Juma said the fee has been "quite well accepted with regard to the residents we've had contact with."
NDP leader Adrian Dix said Fraser officials should reverse the fee, which won't actually start to be debited from residents' accounts until the end of September.
He noted it's the only B.C. health authority that will now be charging for wheelchair rentals.
"It's not a good idea, it's regressive and it requires a lot of energy to collect," Dix said.
"Being ahead of all the other health authorities on an issue like the wheelchair tax is not the right place to be."
The province argued that the fee, aimed to recover maintenance costs for the wheelchairs, was fair because residents who live in their own homes or in many privately run homes don't get them for free.