Assisted living community and personal care home operators in Georgia are defending the industry as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution begins publishing a new investigative series that the newspaper’s editor told readers will “reveal the ways Georgia falls short in regulating homes, the ways the for-profit business model can put residents at risk and the steps you can take to keep family members safe.”

Investigative reporter Carrie Teegardin, in an online video, describes the “Unprotected” series as “one of the most ambitious projects that we’ve undertaken at the AJC.”

According to the newspaper, staff members working on the series have reviewed inspection reports from 2015 to 2018 for every assisted living community and personal care home with 25 or more beds as well as additional information such as police reports and lawsuit case files. They also attended court proceedings and interviewed “dozens of family members, home operators, trade organizations and experts.”

The newspaper plans to publish articles over the “coming weeks and months,” Editor Kevin Riley said.

“In any industry, there are always a few bad actors. Yet the AJC found one in five facilities had serious patterns of violations that could put residents at risk,” he wrote.

The first article in the series, published Sunday, discussed state training and staffing requirements as well as worker pay.

It also focused in part on Sunrise at East Cobb in Marietta, GA, where a 91-year-old resident’s death was ruled a homicide. A caregiver was charged with murder, elder abuse and elder neglect; he was found guilty of the latter charge and sentenced to five years in prison. The incident, according to the newspaper, led to an inspection that found “a host of serious violations.”

Sunrise Senior Living told the newspaper that the “tragic situation is not representative of our larger team’s values” and that it has made changes since the resident’s death, including hiring new staff; retraining workers about abuse, neglect and reporting requirements; and conducting audits to see whether workers are following protocols. The community settled a civil lawsuit with the resident’s family, the newspaper reported.

The AJC article, Georgia Center for Assisted Living President and CEO Tony Marshall told McKnight’s Senior Living, “fails to acknowledge that high-quality care is being provided every day” and “paints an inaccurate picture of the compassionate and caring individuals working in Georgia’s assisted living communities.”

“We regularly hear from happy and satisfied residents and their loved ones regarding their enriching assisted living experiences,” said Marshall, who also is president and CEO of the Georgia Health Care Association.

A new state law that becomes effective Oct. 1 will require tougher background checks and was supported by GCAL, he said.

“The safety and wellbeing of elderly Georgians is GCAL’s highest priority, and any instance of poor care, neglect, abuse or exploitation is unacceptable,” Marshall said. “We have always been supportive of our members’ efforts to improve the quality of care being provided.”

Generalizations made in the series could exacerbate staffing issues facing operators, he said, noting “significant challenges that exist for communities to recruit, attract and retain a skilled and competent workforce, which is critical to the high-quality care seniors deserve and providers strive to provide.”

A representative of the Georgia Senior Living Association told McKnight’s Senior Living that the organization had no comment at this time.

The AJC’s next article in the series is slated to be published this Sunday, when the newspaper also will debut a searchable database of assisted living and personal care homes.