State website offers info on health facilities

By Walter C. Jones
Morris News Service
ATLANTA – Families searching for healthcare facilities – from hospitals to eye banks – have an online tool from the state: .
The Georgia Department of Community Health now has in one place information on all of the facilities it regulates, including nursing homes, home-health agencies and drug-abuse treatment centers. Each with reports on state inspections and citations as well as details about management.
It's connected to Google's maps application, allowing users to search for facilities by location. People who already have a Google account will see their personal landmarks listed on the site's map.
In addition to getting driving directions, the application provides Google's street-level and satellite photographs.
"It will be a very useful tool for families," said Brian Looby, the department's chief of facility regulation.
The Georgia Health Care Association also has an interactive map on its website, but it doesn't include the state's inspection reports. However, it does offer checklists for families on what to look for in a facility, questions to ask there and tips on financing.
Other trade groups have similar information for their type of facilities, but the state's site has every kind of facility as well as the inspection reports.
A slight citation or two on those reports shouldn't eliminate a facility from consideration, according to Looby.
"There are varying degrees of deficiencies," he said. "It's not uncommon for a good facility to have minor deficiencies."
For instance, a citation of an issue with supervising wandering Alzheimer's patients shouldn't be troubling for families seeking a bed for a cancer patient.
He also recommends walking through the facility and talking to employees.
If a facility doesn't show up on the site, it may be one of the many operating illegally without a license.
The department came up with the idea for the website when it discovered it needed the data itself. During the preparations for a disaster drill a year ago, department officials realized they needed a map that showed which facilities were near others so they could transfer patients if need be, according to Matt Jarrard, health-planning director.
Future versions of the website will have even more information from the department, he said. 
"It's providing us with an infrastructure where we can begin adding all of our data to it," Jarrard said.
However, the site won't ever contain quality comparisons, Looby said.
"The one thing I don't want to get into is comparing facilities," he said. "These facilities treat people with different levels of acuity. Comparing them would be like comparing apples and oranges."

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