State takes step toward transparency in senior care homes

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/

For years, Georgians have been largely in the dark about the quality of care in the state’s assisted living communities and personal care homes.

On Thursday, the Georgia Department of Community Health responded with a proposal it says will improve transparency. Its board voted to require hundreds of the facilities to display state inspection reports and complaint investigations directly on their websites.

“The administrative changes the Department of Community Health voted to approve today are a step in the right direction to improve transparency and accountability in the senior care industry,” said Gov. Brian Kemp, who added that other reforms are on the horizon in the upcoming legislative session.

The change comes just two and a half months after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published an investigation into the state's assisted living and personal care industry. The investigation examined the state's oversight of that system and revealed how the state's regulatory website is difficult to find and use and often had incomplete and outdated inspection reports. The facilities' own websites are often filled with glitzy sales pitches that promise great care and an array of amenities, such as chef-driven meals and saltwater pools. Too often, however, the marketing didn't match the reality and seniors suffered, the AJC investigation found.

As part of its investigation, the AJC created its own consumer website for assisted living facilities and large personal care homes to help shore up the dearth of information available on the state's website. That website contains information on hundreds of assisted living facilities and large personal care homes across Georgia, including more than four years of inspection reports and police records.

The DCH board’s action Thursday was an initial vote to require facilities to populate their websites with the most recent 18 months of inspection reports and correction plans. The proposal calls for them to display the information prominently on their websites. In many cases, however, that could result in limited information available to the public because DCH can take 16 months or longer between regular inspections.

A public hearing on the proposed rule change will be held Jan. 13, and a written public comment period ends Jan. 17. The board is expected to vote at its Feb. 13 meeting for final approval.

DCH Commissioner Frank W. Berry said the proposal is one step his agency is taking to improve the system to protect seniors. He said he expects to work with lawmakers early next year to make other improvements, and he credited the AJC series for bringing issues to light.

“Our number one priority always is the health and safety of the individuals we serve,” Berry said. “I think the transparency will begin to improve that and accountability.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has been investigating Georgia’s senior care housing industry for the past year and began publishing its findings in September. The series revealed how a gold rush mentality led to a building boom in assisted living facilities and large personal care homes and in too often care suffered. The AJC found more than 600 cases of neglect and some 90 cases of abuse across a system of roughly 400 facilities. The series also included a consumer website to provide critical information so families could make more informed choices when they seek care for loved ones. Gov. Brian Kemp, lawmakers and the public have all called for change and the state legislature is expected to pursue reforms when the new session begins in January.