Canterbury District Health Board has set out plans to help older people stay in their own homes in order to make healthcare provision financially sustainable long term.
Without making changes, the number of beds for the elderly would need to double to 2,000 by 2020 and it says that is not realistic.
Under changes detailed in its District Annual Plan, older people with complex needs will be assessed at home in person to help them and their families maintain independence.
Those with with less complex needs will be assessed by telephone, with follow-up face-to-face care as required.
The board says all older people will be reviewed regularly and residential care will continue to be offered to people unable to remain at home, even with support.
The board's general manager of planning and funding, Carolyn Gullery, says it would be unsustainable to continue putting more and more people into residential care and long-stay hospital facilities.
She says evidence backs up the view that it benefits people's physical and mental well-being to stay in their own homes and be part of the community.
The document adds that Canterbury has more people using community services than in other regions.