About the ‘Unprotected’ project

AJC investigative team examines thousands of public records

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution collected thousands of public records from a variety of agencies to conduct an unprecedented examination of Georgia's private-pay senior care industry.

Among those records, the AJC analyzed Department of Community Health inspection reports for every assisted living community in Georgia and all of the state’s personal care homes with 25 or more beds for the period of 2015 through 2018. The AJC also collected the state’s databases of fines and other enforcement actions levied against these homes.

To check for any appeals of state actions, the newspaper gathered and examined hundreds of documents from the state Office of Administrative Hearings in cases related to care facilities that the newspaper is studying. The AJC also reviewed state Certificate of Need records to determine how many requests the state was processing for new care facilities, and collected Department of Public Health inspection reports for the dining facilities operated by the care homes.

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

» MORE: The 'Unprotected' investigative series
For any home where DCH reports had allegations of abuse by caregivers, the AJC obtained and studied police incident reports to try to determine whether the allegations were being referred to law enforcement agencies. The newspaper then expanded its requests for police reports after discovering that cases of possible criminal conduct were not being referred to law enforcement, and that cases reported to police were not reflected in public DCH reports.

For more detailed information on some incidents, the AJC reviewed dozens of civil lawsuits and criminal case files, and reporters spent hours in court observing criminal proceedings. Reporters also interviewed dozens of family members, home operators, trade organizations and experts.

» LISTEN BELOW: Carrie Teegardin discusses the "Unprotected" series on GPB's "On Second Thought"

The AJC's project began more than two years ago when AJC reporter Carrie Teegardin began looking into questionable bond deals that had financed senior care facilities in Georgia. That investigation raised questions about the quality of care and adequacy of oversight for the entire private-pay senior care system in Georgia. Teegardin and her editor, Lois Norder, began exploring how the newspaper could study the industry and provide the public with facility-specific records to help families make informed decisions about care for their loved ones.

Early this year, after Teegardin and Norder had obtained thousands of documents, the AJC began building a project team. AJC data specialist Nick Thieme was brought in to convert the documents into datasets and help to analyze information. Reporter Brad Schrade joined the team to help research issues, interview residents and their families and seek out others knowledgeable about concerns. Data journalist Emily Merwin DiRico joined to help create a website to provide consumers with information on the homes that was not easily available from the state. Another data specialist, Jennifer Peebles, helped with data analysis and communications with the facilities; she was joined by data intern Anila Yoganathan. Other key members include Pete Corson, who worked on visual presentations; photographers Hyosub Shin and Bob Andres and videographer Ryon Horne; copy editors Cameron Tankersley and Liam Miller; and print page designer Mike Perkins.