Retirement Homes Act

December 15, 2010

For the first time in Ontario’s history, seniors living in retirement homes across Ontario are protected under provincial legislation – the new Retirement Homes Act (Ontario) (“RHA”), which was enacted on June 8, 2010.  Parts III to VII of the RHA dealing with licenses and operations are to come into force on a day to be named by proclamation of the Lieutenant Governor.

“Retirement home” is defined in the RHA as a residential complex in which the operator makes at least two care services available to a prescribed number of persons who are primarily 65 years of age or older and are not related to the operator.  The definition excludes premises or parts of premises governed by or funded under specific pieces of legislation pertaining to health and long-term care.  Currently, about 43,000 Ontario seniors live in the approximately 700 retirement homes in the province.

Unlike nursing homes, which receive government funding to provide medical care to elderly patients, retirement homes are privately operated and, until now, were unregulated.  Previously, the relationship between residents and retirement homes were governed by a tenancy agreement pursuant to the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006, an arrangement which has been perceived as inadequate.  For years concerns have been raised as to the lack of appropriate regulation and guidelines, but until now, proposed changes have not been implemented.

The RHA requires retirement homes to comply with care and safety standards, establishes a regulatory authority to ensure these standards are met, and creates and protects residents’ rights.  All homes will now be required to establish emergency plans and infection control and prevention programs; meet standards for initial and ongoing assessment of residents’ care needs and care planning; and conduct police background checks and training for staff.

Rights granted to residents under the RHA include, but are not limited to, the right to: be informed of the costs of and changes to services; have the operator facilitate access to external care needs; apply for publicly funded care services; be treated with dignity and respect; have his or her lifestyle and choices respected; and raise concerns or recommend changes regarding his or her care or applicable policies without fear of discrimination or reprisal.

These rights are to be enforced by the Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority (the “Authority”), an independent, third-party body.  The Authority is charged broadly with administering the RHA and the regulations, including overseeing their enforcement, and with educating/advising licensees, consumers, the public and the Ministry on matters relating to the Act.  The RHA also provides for a Registrar who will issue licenses to operators and conduct regular inspections and enforcement activities, including issuing orders or financial penalties, prosecuting offences or revoking licenses if necessary.

The RHA helps ensure accountability and oversight of the Authority by ensuring government approval of the fee setting process; setting out the structure of the permanent Board; and requiring government approval of the code of ethics, conflict of interest policies, political activity, and disclosure of wrong-doing.

Although the RHA has been well-received for the protections it affords to seniors, critics have suggested that without restrictions on the level of care retirement homes may provide, the RHA may pave the way for a private, for-profit second tier of the long-term care system.

The authors would like to thank Maddy Toca and Tiffany Chatterton, students at law, for their assistance on this Communiqué.  We would be pleased to assist with any questions or issues you may have as you move forward towards compliance.

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