Northern Health reports it will continue to invest the balance of $2.9 million in funding generated by a new rate structure for residential care clients into its 23 residential care facilities in northern British Columbia this year.

The provincial government introduced rate increases in 2009 that were phased in over two years, and were expected to generate around $53.7 million in additional revenue for health authorities to invest in improved care. The second half of that increase came into effect at the beginning of this year, and Northern Health will continue to invest the money generated by those rate changes into areas such as increased staffing, educational and training opportunities for staff, equipment and improved client services, said Tim Rowe, executive lead for the elder population for the health authority.

“In some way, all of the facilities will benefit from this $2.9 million, and will benefit in a variety of ways,” he said.

Part of that funding was used to increase the level of direct care staffing in special care units, such as increased time for Residential Care Aides.

“We looked at the region as a whole to decide which of the areas needed enhancements in their staffing levels,” said Rowe. “We did an analysis of where the greatest need was to increase those levels.”

Funding will also be directed to education and learning opportunities for employees caring for seniors, with a special focus on care for clients with dementia.

“Building on the quality of care we already provide, we have identified some practices around how to improve the quality of care for clients with dementia,” said Rowe. “We have developed educational opportunities and supported staff to participate in learning, and we have also encouraged and supported our clinical nurse educators to receive resources around dementia care and introduce those into our facilities as well.”

Equipment such as specialised beds, mattresses, falls-prevention equipment, and bedside tables and chairs will be purchased with a portion of the funding, and recreational, occupational and physiotherapy services will also be enhanced. The funding will also be used towards the introduction of electronic care planning to improve coordination and information-sharing between physicians and all members of the team responsible for looking after seniors in residential care.

Rowe said the rate increases are expected to generate ongoing revenue that will be invested back directly into improved residential care.

Under the new residential care rate structure, clients now pay up to 80 per cent of their after-tax income towards room and board, as long as they are left with at least $275 a month for personal expenses. Approximately 25 per cent of clients – those with the lowest incomes – saw a reduction in their rates in February, 2010, resulting in an annual savings of up to $540 a year, while 75 per cent saw an increase. Rates now range from $894 a month to a maximum of $2,932 a month.

The government maintains the new rate structure is fairer to lower-income clients, and that residential care rates in public facilities are still much less expensive than rates in private facilities.