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Legislation Required to Regulate Retirement Homes


“What? There are no mandatory standards for retirement homes,” my friend asked incredulously. “How can that be?”

It’s hard to believe, but true. The retirement home sector in Ontario is largely unregulated. While the Tenant Protection Act, Health Protection and Promotion Act, and Building and Fire Codes govern aspects of retirement homes no legislation regulates the operation of this sector. Ontarians must insist the province bring in the required legislation.

Retirement residences offer a flexible lifestyle option for seniors who are active and independent and who want to make their own choices. Some nursing services are provided. More can be purchased if needed.

Costs are privately paid and range in price from $1, 850 to $5,000 monthly. A long-term commitment is not required. Residents are free to move anytime after giving 30 days written notice.

Although only 7% of older Canadians live in institutions, adults 65 years of age and over are the fastest growing population group in the country, according to Statistics Canada. The demand for retirement facilities will only continue to increase.

I had more bad news for my friend: Anyone in Ontario today can open a retirement home with no qualifications, experience or expertise.

Consequently retirement homes are not equal. These facilities vary in location, size, price, amenities, programs and services. There is a wide range of competency among operators. While many retirement homes are very well run, others are not. Finding out what’s what can be tough for older persons and their families. The lack of provincial regulations only exacerbates the problem.

More than a decade ago, the Ontario Residential Care Association (ORCA), a voluntary non-profit association established the Accreditation Standards Program to ensure members meet ” the highest residential professional standards for care in the province.”

ORCA’s accreditation process requires applicants to undergo a rigorous evaluation of the following:

Delivery of services and programs with special consideration for resident rights and quality of life;
Quality, comfort and safety of the physical environment; and
Quality as measured by resident satisfaction.

Following the initial accreditation, homes are reviewed based on a 1, 2, or 3-year cycle.

That’s the good news. The bad news: accreditation is optional.

“Our association has been advocating mandatory standards for some time,” says Mr. Gordon White, Executive Director of ORCA. “About 60% of retirement residences are accredited,” he says.

If you are currently on the hunt for a retirement home for yourself or a family member, here are some handy tips from ORCA:

Visit several homes and go with a prepared list of questions.
Talk to residents about their perceptions of the place.
Make return visits.
Ask to see the kitchen area.
Is a health assessment required?
What happens if your health deteriorates?
Ask for copies of paperwork required for admission along with samples of menus, activity calendars and newsletters.
How often are rates for accommodation and/or services increased?
What is the average annual rate of increases over the last few years?
Look for the ORCA Standards Award Certificate.

“But even with this, the most important requirements of a home may not be immediately evident,” says Mr. White. “For example, is the staff trained in critical procedures? What policies are in place to ensure records are complete, current and easily accessible? Sure, the home’s ambience may be beautiful, even luxurious, but without skilled staff and thorough documenting procedures, this may not count for much.”

If you are currently considering a specific retirement home, check the home’s accreditation status by calling 1-800-361-7254 or by visiting ORCA’s website: