Here’s how Jerry Brown can help protect vulnerable people, voting integrity and local control

Gov. Jerry Brown.
Gov. Jerry Brown. hamezcua@sacbee.com

A Carmichael nursing home supervisor admitted she was ordered to alter medical records of a 92-year-old patient, who died after developing rotting bedsores.

The state fined a Santa Monica nursing home for claiming a resident received physical therapy five days a week. At least 28 of those sessions were documented by nurse assistants who were not at work on those days. In Los Angeles, lawyers for a woman who was severely re-injured at a convalescent home discovered that nonexistent nurses made entries in her chart.

All that was detailed by The Sacramento Bee’s Marjie Lundstrom in 2011. Now, after failed legislative attempts in past years, Gov. Jerry Brown can correct this inequity by signing Assembly Bill 859 by Assemblywoman Susan Eggman, D-Stockton. The bill would help expose and thus discourage what was, until Lundstrom came along, a largely untold story of falsification of patient records in nursing homes.

Under a 1991 law, lawyers must prove to jurors by “clear and convincing” evidence that records were altered. Eggman’s bill, backed by California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform and plaintiffs’ attorneys, would ease that standard to a “preponderance of evidence.”

A legislative staff report on Eggman’s bill cited the case of Billie Underwood, a former minister. She died in a skilled nursing center in Stockton after the facility failed to change her bandages and tissue grew around them. The facility’s records had claimed the wound was cleaned daily.

That same staff report cited a 90-year-old woman who died after walking out of an alarmed door and falling. If staff members looked for her, they might have seen her crawling on the ground with fractured face bones. The facility tried to hide the circumstances of her death by destroying a video and written records.

Opponents of the legislation are formidable: The California Chamber of Commerce, the nursing home industry, insurance companies, the Civil Justice Association of California, which seeks to curtail the right to sue, and defenders of California’s limits on medical malpractice litigation. Their opposition is understandable.

“Fear of costly lawsuits has driven some nursing home administrators to re-create medical records to hide neglectful care,” Lundstrom wrote six years ago. But there’s an easy fix: Don’t neglect or abuse patients, and if something bad happens, don’t make matters worse by covering it up.

The vast majority of California’s 1,200 nursing homes do well by their clients and if they make a mistake, they own up to it. But while Brown is rightly concerned about litigation, nursing home operators who alter evidence and are caught ought to be made to pay a price.

Veto AB 840

California elections officials are proud of the integrity of this state’s elections. Brown ought to help them keep their record of accurate vote counts by vetoing Assembly Bill 840 by Assemblyman Bill Quirk, an East Bay Democrat. The bill zipped through at the end of the legislative session without a no-vote. Legislators must not have been paying attention.

But Inyo County Clerk Kammi Foote and the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation note that the legislation would dramatically reduce the number of ballots counties must include in their public counts to show the accuracy of software vote counts.

The bill also would make moot a judge’s ruling against San Diego County over its method of verifying votes. That ruling was issued in January. And yet AB 840 was amended at the end of the session, on Aug. 24, and jammed through with only a cursory hearing, Kim Alexander, who runs the voter foundation, told an editorial board member.

We have no cause to question the accuracy of California’s vote. We certainly do not buy President Donald Trump’s bogus claim that huge numbers of votes were cast illegally in 2016. But if California’s voting integrity law is worth altering, it should be subjected to full hearings, not rushed through at the end of a legislative session.

Veto SB 649

AT&T is used to getting its way in the Capitol. Once again, AT&T was able to muscle through legislation, this time Senate Bill 649 by Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, which would make it easier for telecommunications companies to place so-called small cell wireless contraptions on utility polls for 5G technology.

Backers made late concessions. But the vast majority of local officials remain opposed, saying they would lose too much control over the looks of their cities. We don’t believe local government should impose undue burdens on business. Nor do we believe the Legislature should go out of its way to big-foot local governments, and certainly not at the behest of one of the companies with the biggest feet of all.

Brown, the former Oakland mayor, should respect the concept of subsidiarity, and urge lawmakers and their telecom benefactors to try again in 2018.