During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic that shacked Spain in March and April of 2020, there was a segment of the population that was specially wounded: the elderly residents on nursing homes. News about clusters and deaths due to COVID-19 in these residences were daily and the Government wasn’t publishing any dataabout mortality this phenomena. elDiario.es compiled these data from each one of the 17 autonomous communities in Spain, harmonized them and analyzed them for first time, this was the data that provees what all the news were saying, elderly people in nursing homes were dying and were
The main contribution of this piece of information was to shed light on a highly profund and maximun interest topic for the society: deaths due to Covid-19 in the nursing homes in Spain. To understand the value of this research it is necessary to have into account the context in which it took place: almost everyday we read news about new Covid-19 clusters and deaths in nursing homes. The months passed without the Government providing any data about it, alluding to the lack of information from the autonomic governments*. At the same time, some autonomous communities -which are responsible for the management of the nursing homes- blamed on the central Government for the situation in their care homes.
In this context of opacity and cross accusations among administrations, the Data team of elDiario.es carried out an investigation based on public service. This work served the people to get a quite approximate idea of the situation in the nursing homes in Spain and in each autonomous community, one of the segments of the population more deeply wounded during the pandemic.
*In Spain, the autonomous communities have the competencies to manage their own health systems. During the pandemic, autonomic governments must communicate their Covid-19 data to the Ministry of Public Health. Finally, is the central government who unifies and provides all this information.
Although this is a piece of information based on data, it was not elaborated through data mining, downloading databases or other similar techniques. Due to the lack of public and accessible data, the Data team of elDiario.es made information requests directly to the autonomic governments of each community. The information obtained was transferred to a collaborative database, in this case from Google Spreadsheet. With this same tool we cleaned up the data, we standardized them in order to make them comparable among them, and we crossed them with other datasets to go in depth in their analysis. Finally, we translated these analyses into interactive visualizations created with Datawrapper and D3.js.
What was the hardest part of this project?
The hardest part of this research was the process of compilation, cleaning and harmonization of the information provided. Because of the lack of official public, accessible, actualized and unified data from the Spanish Government regarding the situation and deaths in nursing homes during the pandemic, elDiario.es’s data team compiled all this information by itself.
In order to do so, elDiario.es made public information requests to the government of each one of the 17 autonomous communities. This very first step already means a difficulty by itself, for the area responsible for the management of the nursing homes depends on each autonomous community.
We asked for the same information in every case: number of deaths (with confirmed Covid-19, with suspicious Covid-19 and due to other reasons) in residential centres for older people, from the beginning of March to June. We also asked for the census of elderly residents in retirement homes at the beginning of March (before the beginning of the first wave of the pandemic).
However, due to the absence of standards for counting and collecting registers, the information obtained from the autonomous communities was not homogeneous and, therefore, comparable. The casuistry was significant (all the details about it in the methodological note at the end of the article). To all this, we must add the delay of the answers or even the absence of response of some administrations. Only the information compilation process took more than two weeks.
What can others learn from this project?
This project is a good example of what data journalism can achieve through information requests. We asked for data to 17 different administrations in order to obtain and unify an information of public service that the central Government would not make public after months, and we created attractive and interactive visualizations to show in an easy way a complex information. Good coordination and fluid communication among the members of the Data team was indispensable to make possible this precise scoop.