Ontario's aging population is spurring the government to regulate retirement homes, Seniors Minister Gerry Phillips said Tuesday.

Phillips said he'll introduce legislation this spring that will ensure all retirement homes are regulated, possibly by a third party. The bill will require retirement homes to assess new residents and tell them what services they'll be getting.

The homes will also have to meet standards in infection control, safety, staff training and resident services.

"The senior population is growing and this is an important part of seniors' accommodation," he said.

Phillips declined to divulge any specifics, since the legislation is still being drafted. But the bill will include minimum safety and care standards and a resident's bill of rights, according to his staff.

Phillips said there are about 750 retirement homes in Ontario with about 41,000 residents.

Private residences not regulated

Retirement homes are private-pay accommodations for seniors that aren't regulated in Ontario, unlike nursing homes, which receive government funding to provide medical care to elderly patients.

Retirement homes do have to meet provincial fire and building codes, abide by tenant protection laws and meet public health and food safety provisions under Ontario's Health Protection and Promotion Act.

About 380 municipalities also have bylaws that retirement homes must follow, said Gord White, chief executive of the Ontario Retirement Communities Association.

"But there's nothing that's really ensuring and governing the competency of retirement homes to provide care and services for seniors in Ontario," he said.

About 70 per cent of Ontario's retirement home beds are accredited by the non-profit association, which sets professional standards and inspects retirement homes, White said.

Critics say the regulations are long overdue, but question whether the government really has the best interests of seniors at heart.

The government isn't building any new nursing homes but is putting pressure on the province's cash-strapped hospitals to discharge patients more quickly, said MP Gerry Martiniuk, the Progressive Conservatives' seniors critic.

Elderly patients who should be in long-term care may end up in retirement homes that don't provide the assistance they need, he said.

"I'm really disappointed because I think our seniors deserve better than that," he said. "They deserve a decent place to live in their retirement, when they need extra care, and that's not being provided by this government."