Wandering assisted-living residents prompts Fraser Health review

Fifteen residents were reported missing or wandering in health region last year, more than rest of province combined.

Isobel Mackenzie heads B.C.'s Office of the Seniors Advocate.

Fraser Health will review its assisted-living facilities after seeing a spike in the number of residents reported as missing or wandering.

More such residents went missing in Fraser Health than in all other B.C. health regions combined in 2015, according to the Office of the Seniors Advocate’s annual report.

Assisted-living residences – in which seniors live on their own, in private apartments, with some help – reported 15 people missing or wandering in the 2015/16 fiscal year in the Fraser Health region, which stretches from Delta to the Fraser Canyon.

Only eight other incidents were reported across the rest of B.C. The Fraser Health number was up from the eight people reported missing in 2014, which itself was double the 2013 figure.

The report doesn’t say whether patients were living in public or private facilities.

Fraser Health spokesperson Jacqueline Blackwell said wandering can be a first sign of dementia and patients exhibiting such signs are immediately placed on priority list for transfer to a residential care facility.

Blackwell said Fraser Health is planning a review of its assisted-living programs in 2017, with a focus on safety.

“We recognized that that number is elevated over previous years,” she said.

She also noted the Fraser Health has the most assisted-living units of all B.C.’s health authorities.

The report also shows that seniors seeking a residential care spot in Fraser Health are waiting longer and usually don’t get a spot at their preferred facility.

Only 52 per cent of those waiting for residential care were admitted to a hospital within the target window of 30 days in the 2015/16 year, down from 57 per cent the previous year.

Wait times across the province ranged widely, from a median wait of just a week in the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority to 42 on Vancouver Island.

But in Fraser Health, patients are less likely to end up at their preferred facility than seniors in other health regions, the report notes.

Just 28.5 per cent of seniors were initially placed in their preferred residential care home in 2015/16, down from 31.2 per cent. Those who don’t get placed at their preferred site can ask for a transfer, but in Fraser Health, only 6.8 per cent were moved to their requested spot last year.

Blackwell said a provincial directive requires patients to be placed in the first available bed. She said moving people to preferred sites is a desired outcome and one the health authority works towards. Blackwell also noted the health authority added 403 residential care beds last year to bring the total to 8,217.

The 35.1 per cent of residents being placed in their preferred locations is the lowest figure in the province.

Just under half of patients in Vancouver Coastal Health and Vancouver Island Health get preferred spots, while in the Interior and Northern B.C., the number exceeds 90 per cent.

The report also shows that housing subsidies for those over 60 hasn’t kept up with increases in rent over the past decade, despite boosts in the program’s budget.