Understanding the Health Care System

Understanding the Health Care System

Our public health care system has many services for older adults and their caregivers. Getting support can be as easy as picking up the phone, watching a video, or reading a website.

The best time to find health care services is before a health care crisis.

It’s important to take the time to learn about what programs are available to you, how to access services and where to ask for help.

This site and its resources is a great place to start.

Finding Home and Community Care Services

The term home and community care refers to services for people who live at home but who are having trouble managing because of health challenges. There are many of different services designed to help people remain healthy and independent in their homes.

Get help to figure out which ones are best for your situation.

You can also get help finding and understanding home and community care services by contacting 211 British Columbia. You can call 2-1-1 at any time of the day or night or you can go to their website. 211 British Columbia is a free, confidential service that connects people to helpful resources in their community. It is also available in over 240 languages.

This website talks about home and community care services offered by the B.C. public health care system. Similar services are also offered by private companies and community non-profit organizations. You can learn about these from the Home and Community Care Program in your region, which is run by your health authority.

What Services are Available?

Do I Have to Pay?

  • Depending on your situation, you might have to pay all or some of the costs
  • Your regional Home and Community Care Program will assess your needs and financial situation to see if you qualify for full or partial subsidy
  • Payment follows a sliding scale
  • TIP: Take the time to figure out the pricing system. In some situations, you might save money by using a private company or non-profit community group

Click here to learn more about the different home and community care services and the fee structure.

How Does the Process Work?

1. Referral

Any health care provider can give you a referral. This means the health care worker formally connects you to the people who organize these services.

You can also do a self-referral by contacting the Home and Community Care program at the health authority for your region and telling them you need help.

2. Assessment

Someone from the Home and Community Care office will assess your needs. This person will be your case manager. They will talk to you about your health, your finances, and your home situation.

Based on the assessment, the case manager will tell you what services you can get and if you need to pay a fee. You may be put on a wait list for some services.

TIP: Tell the case manager everything that is important about your situation. For instance, let them know if you (or someone you are caring for) needs someone who speaks your language. The better they understand your situation, the easier it will be to connect you to the right help.

3. Receiving care/who to talk to

The case manager will help organize your services.

If your situation changes and you think you need more or less care, or different services, contact your case manager. This person is your guide to the home and community care system.

If you are getting home support, keep the contact information for your home support supervisor handy. You can call or email them with requests or questions.

Where do I start?

Talk to your health care provider or contact the health authority for your region.

Fraser Health

Interior Health

Island Health

Northern Health

Vancouver Coastal Health

Learn more about how to arrange for home and community care, including tips on getting ready for an assessment, here.

In the Hospital? Plan Ahead to Get Help When You Leave

  • Ask to speak to the home health liaison, community health nurse, or the social worker. They can connect you to services in your community
  • Hospital staff will create a discharge plan—a plan for managing your move out of the hospital and your time back home. This will help you fully heal and recover
  • Let hospital staff know if you think you might need help at home. Even if you don’t usually use home support, you can get this service for two weeks after leaving the hospital

Finding a Primary Care Provider

A primary care provider

  • Is typically the person you see first for a health concern
  • Is for your everyday, regular health care
  • Helps you manage an ongoing issue
  • Is often a family doctor or nurse practitioner
  • Ideally, works with you over the long term and gets to know your history, needs, and wishes

If you do not have a primary care provider, you might be put on a waiting list. The sooner you do this, the sooner you will be connected to a primary care provider.

Register to be linked to a primary care provider here. If you are having trouble registering, call 8-1-1 (7-1-1 for the deaf and hard of hearing) anytime to talk to someone who will guide you through the process. Translators are available in 130 languages.

If you don’t have a primary care provider, or if they are not available

  • Find out where to get medical help right away using the Pathways Medical Directory
  • Find walk-in clinics, urgent and primary care centres, emergency departments, hospitals, mental health programs, home care programs, pharmacy services, laboratory services, and more in the online HealthLink BC Directory. For help searching the directory, call 8-1-1
  • If you are a resident living in the Fraser Health region, you can call Fraser Health Virtual Care and speak with a registered nurse, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven-days-a-week

Getting the Most out of a Health Care Visit


Call 8-1-1 for 24/7 help

This will connect you to HealthLinkBC’s health service navigators. They can

  • Answer basic health care questions
  • Help you find your way around the health care system
  • Connect with a registered nurse, registered dietitian, qualified exercise professional, or pharmacist

Call 8-1-1 (7-1-1 for the deaf and hard of hearing)

Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week

Translation services are available in over 130 languages

For non-emergency situations only

Use an on-line directory of health care services

The HealthLinkBC Directory lets you search for health services provided by the B.C. health care system and non-profit groups.

You can search for walk-in clinics, urgent and primary care centres, emergency departments, hospitals, mental health programs, home care programs, pharmacy services, lab services, and more.

If you need help using the directly, call 8-1-1 to speak with a health service navigator (7-1-1 for the deaf and hard of hearing).

Get connected to support and services at Where Older Adults Can Get Help

This HealthLinkBC webpage directs you to help with

  • home care
  • household tasks and yard maintenance
  • respite care (providing a break for caregivers)

It also connects you to

  • community supports and peer groups
  • programs to help people facing chronic illnesses
  • the Office of the Seniors Advocate

Use the Office of the B.C. Seniors Advocate website.

This resource

  • is simple and easy-to-use
  • lists resources, including how to sign up for the Medical Services Plan (health care insurance) and PharmaCare (which will help cover the cost of medications)
  • answers to questions such as “Can I get help paying for my dental care?” and “How can I find information about long-term care facilities in my community?”

Finding Your Way Around Our Health Care System: A Guide for Newcomers to Canada 

A booklet about our health care system. Read it online, download, or print.

In English

In Arabic, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Pashtu, Farsi, Punjabi, Somali, and Urdu

Getting Started: An Introduction to Health Care in British Columbia for Newcomer Immigrant Women

A 4 ½-minute video about how to get health care insurance, produced by B.C. Women’s Hospital.

This link will also get you to fact-sheets in Arabic, English, Farsi, French, Korean, Mandarin and Punjabi on getting health insurance and on finding health care services

South Asian Newcomer Resources

A website to help find your way around the health care system, including how to get care in your own language.

First Link® dementia support connects people living with dementia and their care partners to support services, education, and information.

  • English: 1-800-936-6033 (Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.)
  • Cantonese and Mandarin: 1-833-674-5007 (Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
  • Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu: 1-833-674-5003 (Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.)

Every region in BC has a First Nations and Indigenous Peoples’ health care advisor. They help with

  • navigating the system
  • finding health care services
  • ensuring care is culturally safe and appropriate

These are organized by B.C.’s five health authorities. Find them here

Northern Health Aboriginal Patient Liaison Program

Fraser Health Indigenous Health Liaison

Island Health Aboriginal Liaison Nurses

Interior Health Aboriginal Patient Navigator Service

Vancouver Coastal Health Indigenous Patient Care Quality Liaisons

Not sure which health authority you are in? Find out here

The First Nations Health Authority wellness resource page connects you to Indigenous cancer patient navigators, the First Nations Doctor of the Day Program, and more.