Roger Folsom (left), vice chairman, and Frank W. Berry, commissioner of Georgia Department of Community Health (DCH), confer during a Georgia Department of Community Health board meeting in Atlanta in August. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

State website on healthcare facilities down for weeks

UPDATE: The Department of Community Health’s facility search website is back online today after an outage that lasted more than a month. The search tool has a new interface, and DCH has a latest news item on its website that says the redesigned site is part of its effort to improve transparency. Check back on AJC.com for additional information on the changes.

For the past month, consumers and advocates have not had online access to critical inspection reports on Georgia assisted living communities, personal care homes, nursing homes, hospitals and other health care facilities because the state’s website has been offline.

Initially, the Georgia Department of Community Health’s “Map2Care” website was projected to be unavailable for only four days in early December, according to a message posted on the site when it first went down. The message said an “upgraded system will re-launch” on Dec. 9.

But the system is still down.

» SEARCHABLE DATABASE: Details on every facility studied by the AJC

» MORE: The ‘Unprotected’ investigative series

The department told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in mid-December that the outage was due to a problem with a “mapping service” that was used “to support mapping hundreds of markers on older browsers.” The Map2Care site allows consumers to search for health care facilities using an address.

DCH spokeswoman Fiona Roberts said in an email Wednesday that there was “no further cause” for the outage beyond the mapping issue. “We have been working diligently to address the issue and plan to have the site back live within the coming week,” she said.

For more than a month, the state’s guide to health care facilities and services has been offline.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The outage underscores broader problems with transparency at the Department of Community Health. The agency’s lack of timely inspections and delays in releasing information to the public were key findings in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s recent investigative series about Georgia’s senior care industry. As part of the series, the AJC created its own a consumer website with four years’ worth of information about every assisted living facility and large personal care home in the state.

The AJC found that the Map2Care site was difficult for consumers to find and navigate and that it offered very limited information when compared with information provided by many other states. Most reports are not posted until months after inspections take place, and some reports were missing or blank, the AJC found.

» MORE: State takes step towards transparency in senior care homes

» PREVIOUSLY: Lax oversight, low fines in senior care industry

With the site down, the public does not have access to recent inspection reports, listings for new care facilities, and other information.

Melanie McNeil, Georgia’s long-term care ombudsman, said the lack of online access to the reports handicaps families who are trying to find care. “You’re just really flying blind,” she said. “You are just going on what the facility tells you. You just have to go with whatever your impression is.”

McNeil’s office has representatives throughout the state who take complaints and advocate for residents of nursing homes, personal care homes and assisted living communities. She said the outage has made it difficult for the representatives working in the field, who are familiar with navigating the Map2Care site and turn to it for basic information such as phone numbers, inspection reports and licensing status.

» RELATED: Most states have higher standards for directors of senior care homes

» CONSUMER GUIDE: Resources for finding and evaluating a senior care facility

McNeil said consumers understand that technology can fail, but they expect problems to be temporary.

“This doesn’t seem temporary,” McNeil said. “This leaves consumers in the dark. Consumers look to the Department of Community Health for objective information. Right now that’s a problem because it is information that should be available, but isn’t.”

The AJC reported in 2017 that DCH was struggling to meet a federal transparency requirement to post information about nursing home inspections on its website. However, consumers have another option because key information from nursing home inspections is posted on a federal website. Personal care homes and assisted living communities are regulated at the state level, so consumers must turn to state governments for information about these facilities.

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