Canterbury District Health Board plans to start moving elderly people back to Christchurch early next month, though the process could take longer than a year.
Some 500 elderly people were moved out of the city because of damaged rest homes and other aged care facilities after the 22 February earthquake; about 200 stayed elsewhere in the region while more than 300 people were sent as far afield as Auckland.
The district health board has been under pressure from some families to bring people back to the region.
DHB managers agreed on Monday on guidelines that will govern their return to the city from next month.
The board says about 10 beds per week become available in aged care facilities in the district, and it will earmark two for those who wish to return, with the remainder meeting the needs of those currently living in Canterbury.
Health board decides who gets places
In a more contentious move, the DHB says it will continue to control access to all available residential beds in Christchurch.
The board says it will decide who has priority for places for at least the next six months.
Aged Care Association chief executive Martin Taylor says it's an appropriate response in the short term but has wide implications.
The elderly are going to have to come to terms with the fact that they cannot chose where they live, because when there are not enough aged care places the board will prioritise who goes into them.
Mr Taylor says facilities won't be replaced quickly and the DHB may retain control for years. He says the Christchurch situation could happen elsewhere if more beds are not provided nationwide for the growing elderly population.
No complaints to health watchdog
Meanwhile, the Health and Disability Commissioner says he has been impressed with the efforts of health and disability providers in Canterbury since the February earthquake.
Anthony Hill, who is from Christchurch, says his office has received no complaints at all from the public about standards of care or other related issues since the quake.
He says that might relate to a can-do attitude that he himself has noticed on visits to the city recently.