Save Lake Tahoe From Invasive Weeds and Herbicides

By Tobi Tyler, Sierra Club

It’s time to take Lake Tahoe’s clarity and water quality seriously and provide long term, holistic solutions to the source of invasive aquatic weeds that are spreading throughout Lake Tahoe from the Tahoe Keys, instead of offering toxic band aid solutions such as herbicides.

Dredging Tahoe’s largest natural wetland to build 1,500 homes and associated canals in the 1960s (now known as the Tahoe Keys) was an ecological disaster, something that would never be approved today. This project destroyed the lake’s natural filtering system (a healthy wetland) and replaced it with artificial canals that are now rife with invasive aquatic weeds (Eurasian milfoil and curly leaf pondweed) and dangerous algae blooms. The Keys’ unnaturally warm water encourages the growth of harmful algae, including deadly cyanobacteria and other non-native species.

To make matters worse, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board are moving forward with a proposal by the Tahoe Keys Property Owners Association to treat the Keys’ invasive weeds with aquatic herbicides. However, new non-chemical methods have not been fully tested and shown ineffective as required by the Water Board before resorting to herbicides. Chemical herbicides have never been allowed in Lake Tahoe before because the Environmental Protection Agency classifies Tahoe as a Tier-3 Outstanding Natural Resource Water that cannot be degraded.

To add insult to injury, the above agencies admit using herbicides in Lake Tahoe will never eliminate the weeds; it will only “manage” them. Continued use of dangerous chemicals will be necessary in perpetuity to keep the weeds under control, all for a treatment that will never work to suit the convenience of boat owners in the Tahoe Keys. The agencies are also dishonest by asserting the herbicide use during this “test” would be a one-time event. Every lake in the country where herbicides have been used have had to continue their use once started to keep the invasive weeds down to a manageable level.

So what can be done instead? Returning the lagoons (i.e., the stagnant, dead-end canals) to a healthy, functioning wetland would solve the weed problem by eliminating the warm, shallow waterways that are habitat for just three things: weeds, algae, and boats. The homeowners would keep their houses and only lose their ability to boat to the Lake from their backyards. Is that too large a price to pay to save Lake Tahoe from the Keys? Eliminate the habitat for the weeds and you eliminate both the weeds and need for herbicides. Restoring the canals to wetland would immediately improve the water quality and clarity by filtering nutrients, sediments, and pollution from the surrounding neighborhood of the Keys. Done well, it could enhance the health, beauty, and quality of life at the Keys while saving tens of millions of taxpayer dollars. Natural wetland habitat (and perhaps some boardwalks or hiking trails) in that location would restore wildlife habitat and natural beauty, while enhancing quality of life and opportunities for outdoor recreation.

In the meantime, the Keys should be walled off from the greater Lake Tahoe by installing a barrier in the channel between lake water and the Keys. This short-term solution would help prevent the continued spread of the weeds to Lake Tahoe, which come from the Keys’ boats traveling out to the Lake. Both of these suggestions were ignored by the agencies last year during the scoping phase of this project.

It’s time to stop putting band aids on severed arteries. The Tahoe Keys development never should have happened. But now that they exist, we can heal the damage they continue to inflict on the lake and everyone who lives and visits the region by removing the canals and restoring them to natural wetlands. Attempting herbicide treatment only adds insult to injury at the taxpayer’s expense without solving the problem.

Nature has proven time and again that if we put the pieces back, natural systems will return. A wetland habitat would begin filtering and purifying the waters that feed Lake Tahoe. If we really want to Keep Tahoe Blue, it’s time to restore the canals and lagoons at the Keys.

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Environmental Impact Report (DEIS/DEIR), “Tahoe Keys Lagoons Aquatic Weed Control Methods Test” may be found here.

Public comments on the herbicide proposal are being accepted through September 3.

~ Tobi Tyler is the Vice Chair of the Tahoe Area Group of the Sierra Club. She worked for 12 years as a Water Resource Control Engineer for the Lahontan Water Board. Find out more about Sierra Club’s concerns with the herbicide proposal here.

August 27, 2020 Moonshine Minutes

Transcript

BL: Thinking local from the start of your economic impact, i.e. where you spend your dollar, not only shows your values and makes a tangible impact on the world, but by spending money at independently owned establishments, more of your dollar recirculates in the community it was spent in.

Welcome to Moonshine Minutes. I’m Becca Loux.

Numerous studies have demonstrated this principle, with one study conducted in Salt Lake City, Utah, by Civic Economics that compared what percentage of a dollar stays in the community when spent in an independently owned local store versus a national chain. This study grouped four national chains present in Salt Lake (Barnes & Noble, Home Depot, Office Max, and Target) and three national restaurant chains (Darden, McDonald’s, and P.F. Chang’s), and pitted a dollar spent in any of those establishments within the city against one spent at a combination of 15 independently owned local businesses and seven independent restaurants.

The result? About 14% of the dollar spent at national chains recirculated to the Salt Lake community; while 52% of the dollar spent at independent establishments remained in the community.

Now that’s buying power.

Of course, our Tahoe region towns are much smaller and more dependent (currently) on the tourism industry to survive even than a large destination city like Salt Lake. How many cents on the dollar do you think stays local when you spend at a big corporation vs. an independently owned local store here? In fact, while keeping your dollars in the local economy is vital, another solution being talked about around here relates to the big picture of a tourism-driven economy: Could the region survive without such a disproportionate amount of capital circulating to cater to visitation and tourism? And what would alternatives be?

Local mover/shaker Jan Holan penned an essay with his response to that question based on his experience as operator of Lift Workspace, which he sees as part of the future of Tahoe’s economy. So, what do you think, Jan, can the region thrive without being so tourism-centric?

Jan: Absolutely. Just as the First Transcontinental Railroad made it possible for Tahoe/Truckee residents to distribute timber, ice, and locally brewed beer across the West, technology is making it possible to live in the mountains while creating value for the rest of the world. With tech sector innovations, the concepts of “made in Tahoe” can be applied to so much more than ever before. The pandemic is accelerating this trend. With so many people working from home, it’s not surprising many are choosing to live in the mountains.

With that said, visitors will always be an important part of our future. Much of the infrastructure and services we enjoy and depend on wouldn’t exist without our visitors. If there ever was a clear distinction between “visitor” and “local,” the lines are getting blurrier and won’t serve us moving forward. We stand to gain most from creating a kind and welcoming community to live in and visit.

We have the opportunity to galvanize all who love our region — visitors, lifelong locals, and new residents alike — to help build a compelling future together. To sustain our new hybrid economy and our community character we need to make big investments in housing, transportation, and nature.

Housing has been a challenge since well before the pandemic-fueled migration to the mountains. Many of the people who keep our schools, public services, and businesses running can’t afford to live here. The shortage of affordable housing stresses the fabric of our community and generates unnecessary traffic on our roadways.

Yet more full-time residents lived in our town centers in 1950 than today. Encouraging higher density infill housing closer to town will reduce sprawl and per capita costs of public services like sewers, roadways, and fire protection. Infill development will also make alternatives to the personal automobile more viable.

Traffic is frustrating in the city and even more discordant in the mountains. We can’t simply build our way out of this mess. In most cases, more roads, more lanes, and more parking will lead to more traffic. A bold commitment to developing transportation infrastructure not so dependent on the automobile is needed.

Public transportation needs to be more convenient and sexier. Just as software developers focus on improving every aspect of the user interface, we can invest in good design to improve every aspect of the transit rider experience. Eliminating TART fares was a great first step. Expanding routes and frequency is needed. How about neighborhood coffee transit stops? What would a compelling Truckee Trolley experience look and feel like? Is it time to create a modern version of the Snowball Express train which first brought skiers to Sugarbowl in 1940 with arguably less hassle than a visitor fighting traffic 80 years later on Interstate 80?

While we won’t be replacing all car trips with bike trips, connecting neighborhoods with paved multi-use trails is a high leverage investment. Imagine riding safely just about anywhere across our region whether you are 8 or 80. Electric bikes have made riding more accessible. Plowing trails makes nearly every day a good day for riding. Trails improve the experience of residents and visitors while providing better access to nature and open space. 

As a community, we rally behind initiatives to protect open space and nature. We have much work to do. As one example, our Truckee River still bears the scars from a railroad era when industry used the river as a water and power source and convenient sewer. The Truckee River is the heart of our community, but the railroad and our development pattern has separated us from it.

We can create better access while restoring riverbanks and riparian vegetation. Pedestrian bridges over the river and over the tracks from Truckee’s downtown will improve access, parking, and traffic. Revitalizing industrial river properties with mixed use neighborhoods that intersperse housing with parks, trails, restaurants, commerce, and art will fortify our economy while improving the quality of experience for residents and visitors alike.

Pulling together as a community to make smart investments in housing, transportation, and nature will help make our region a great place to live and visit. It will be the foundation for a long-term sustainable, diverse, and entrepreneurial economy.

BL: Thank you so much for that perspective, Jan. So much focus is put on our visitor-based economy that many people don’t think beyond it, but as you mentioned, we are already seeing the massive influence of the influx of remote and tech-based sectors, so the question is how can the region truly adapt and keep its character. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s been a lesson in creative outside-the-box thinking. It’s going to take all our villages together to navigate these innovative roads into the future, but we’re mountain folk. We’ve got this. 

Moonshine Minutes will resume over the weekend, with an exclusive and in-depth look into a case of what’s been called ‘patient dumping’ at the Tahoe Forest Health System. Plus, today is publication day! Pick up your copy of Moonshine Ink’s new print edition, which includes the TFHS story as well as the truth (that we know so far) about 5G and health, pandemic gardening, your local election guide, and lots more in Moon Boxes and open businesses around the region now.

August 20, 2020 Moonshine Minutes

Transcript

One of the more common sets of questions Moonshine Ink has fielded in recent months involve the possibility of health risks of 5G networks. We wanted to get you your answers, so we did some digging — but the experts we interviewed mostly agreed that not enough data has been collected to make conclusive statements, and health organizations seem fairly united in saying that not enough is known about the effects of 5G to make strong connections to commonly cited health risks such as cancer, autism, or viral infections like COVID.

I’m Becca Loux with your daily dose of Moonshine Minutes, from a You Asked. They Answered. investigation, also available in print, prompted by numerous community inquiries. 

Yet one professor emeritus we spoke with at Washington State University has dedicated much time and 10 academic papers (so far) compiling the research we have on all EMFs (electro-magnetic frequencies) and their effects on our health. Martin L. Pall bemoans the lack of research and funding, going so far as to say that industry is influencing science and government to “systematically avoid collecting the data.” And while Pall is clear that there is no proven causation between EMFs and COVID-19, he states that he is unequivocally sure that his research leads him to believe there is more than coincidental correlation between this pandemic and the increasing use of greater-frequency networks like 5G.

It’s important to note that conventional thinking goes against this hypothesis; in fact, according to The New York Times in July 2019, “To no small degree, the blossoming anxiety over the professed health risks of 5G technology can be traced to a single scientist and a single chart.” In a piece titled The 5G Health Hazard That Isn’t, reporter William J. Broad describes how consultant and physicist Dr. Bill P. Curry was commissioned to study 5G in a public school in Florida and found serious health risks, greater than prior networks. However, his study has since been disproven.

Noting that frequencies are higher in 5G than 4G, Broad writes, “According to experts on the biological effects of electromagnetic radiation, radio waves become safer at higher frequencies, not more dangerous.”

However, the concern is still there, and it’s clear that research is lacking. Questions we’ve received from the community have often alluded to cancer risks, so let’s hear from our local media representative from the American Cancer Association. We checked in with Gretchen Groves, communications director for the American Cancer Society, west region.

First, we asked Groves if there is any known connection between 5G and any form of cancer?

She replied, “These higher frequency RF [radio frequency] waves are less able to penetrate the body than lower frequency waves, so in theory they might be less likely to have any potential health effects. But so far this issue has not been well-studied. At this time, there has been very little research showing that the RF waves used in 5G networks are any more (or less) of a concern than the other RF wavelengths used in cellular communication.”

In your professional opinion, we asked her, is there more study needed to determine if it’s safe?

“I do believe more research is needed to determine if these networks are of more or less concern than those with lower RF waves.”

Groves shared with us an article on ACS’s website, linked in the online version of this article, which goes so far as to describe RF waves used in cellphone and other data-based communication as not known to science to cause “any noticeable health effects. However, this does not mean that the RF waves from cellphone towers have been proven to be absolutely safe. Most expert organizations agree that more research is needed to help clarify this, especially for any possible long-term effects.”

The ACS also notes in the article that they have no official stance on the cancer-causing potential of RF waves generally, and that neither International Agency for Research on Cancer nor the U.S. National Toxicology Program have classified any cancer-causing potential of RF, though “some other agencies have commented on cell tower safety.”

So, not known to be connected to cancer or other health risks, and Groves predicted that the as-yet-unseen data may give us less to worry about with 5G than 4G. Sounds okay, right? Wrong, University of Washington’s Pall would say.

According to Pall, known health risks from study of 4G and lower and other EMFs include “multiple types of impacts on our brains, on our reproductive function, on the hormone systems in the body, on the DNA of our cells, they produce oxidative stress which is involved in causing chronic disease and those aren’t the only things that are going on …there are life-threatening cardiac effects that occur.”

Pall asserted that he is among other scientists who believe it will ultimately be concluded that 5G, higher frequency waves, have worse health effects than lower ones. 

Pall said: “5G is designed to carry huge amounts of information, per unit of time, per second, and the industry in fact touts it because of that, and the information is carried by modulating pulses, and we know the modulating pulses … make things much, much worse than if you have an unpulsed EMF of the same average intensity.

Because of our expectation that it’s inevitably going to be much more dangerous, I and many other scientists argued that we needed to have biological safety testing for 5G before any rollout but the industry has utterly and completely failed, they have not done one single safety test of 5G. This is a travesty.

In fact, we know that 4G is damaging, and 3G is damaging, and 2G is damaging, and generally when they go up that number scale, the more pulsations you have, the more damaging [they] are.”

Pall discussed with us his observations on a possible connection between the pandemic and EMF waves, which we again want to remind our listeners is not backed by scientific evidence.

Pall clarified: “First of all, any connection between EMFs and COVID-19 are not the kinds of connections that people have suggested, well, COVID-19 isn’t real, that it’s not a real virus and that the virus is produced in response to cell radiation, etc., etc. Clearly those opinions are incorrect. They’re not right. That’s not the way viral epidemics work.”

He then went on to say, “having said that, there is a reasonable argument and it’s not as strong as the evidence for the things that I discussed before, but there is a reasonable inference that there may be a connection between the EMFs including 5G and the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, how severe the effects are in our bodies.

There has been a correlation between 5G and severity of infections.

Pall noted three examples of hotbeds for COVID-19 that are also locations of new 5G towers: the known epicenter, Wuhan, China, which is the city with the most 5G antennae in that country; Milan, Italy which was hit hard and is the first city in Italy to have introduced 5G; and in the U.S. locations where the correlation exist that Pall cited are Seattle, New York City, and Southern California.

We looked into it, and while there is no comprehensive data being tracked about 5G locations yet (most cell tower maps don’t include many 5G towers, if any, just yet), a company called Ookla has been compiling known locations from many sources and has a map available at speedtest.net/ookla-5g-map. This map confirms that, as Pall claims, there are a relatively significant number of 5G towers in Southern California with 459, around Seattle with 236, and concentrated around NYC with 343.

It’s even more difficult to find out where 5G is on a local level, in part because modifications to cell towers or new cell towers don’t necessarily need to disclose what types of networks they’re catering to, according to Truckee planning technician Emily McGuire, who said the town looks at things like “height, color, and previous land use” to determine whether to permit that kind of construction.

Pall conceded that his observations don’t “prove one thing causes another” but he said it “certainly raises a red flag … So, is there any reason to think there may be causation? I think the answer is yes, but it’s not definitive. The reason to think there may be causation is we have a lot of information about what happens in coronavirus infections generally, not necessarily COVID-19, all the coronaviruses.

There’s more than a correlation, there’s the biochemistry of what happens when we’re exposed to EMFs which are things that we know have important roles in the coronavirus infections so that suggests that EMF exposures can exacerbate the infection.”

Moonshine Ink also reached out to the Tahoe Forest Health System for comment, but since they are a patient-care facility entirely, they were not able to comment on research matters.

Find the full story on moonshineink.com, and in our print edition, on stands now.  

August 19, 2020 Moonshine Minutes

Transcript

JD: Friends, we’re officially mid-week. Moonshine arts and culture editor Juliana Demarest here with your Moonshine Minutes on this happy hump day, with an episode exploring just why it is that yellow jackets get so nasty in late summer, followed by your last three opportunities to learn something new and exciting through the Headwaters Institute for Science Women in STEM speaker series. 

[Musical interlude]

Every year it’s the same story: Put your wasp traps out in early spring, they say. That’s when the queens come out, they say. So every spring, I load up on pricey store-bought bait for my yellow jacket traps. I arm them with their attractant-soaked cotton balls and then I wait. And wait. And wait some more. And — nothing! Not a single bugger takes the bait!

Feeling defeated, year after year I put up the white flag and abandon my springtime mission. All summer long, the vibrant yellow traps decorate my trees like it’s Christmas in July, and then it happens: late summer arrives and the yellow jackets get so bad that my kids won’t play outside because until the sun goes down and the temperature cools for the evening, they are under constant attack by dive-bombing meat bees on a kamikaze mission. Yet these hearty creatures aren’t doomed to die for their cause: Unlike honeybees whose barbed stingers will come off after stinging, spelling their demise, the smooth stingers of the yellow jacket allow it to sting repeatedly without dying.

While they’re commonly referred to as meat bees because they’re known to go on the attack for a good chunk of protein, yellow jacket wasps are not bees and in fact are more closely related to hornets. Western yellow jackets (Vespula pensylvanica) have a brighter yellow on their bodies compared to honeybees, which are more orange in color, and they also have a yellow ring around each eye — although I don’t recommend getting close enough to take a look. They’re way more aggressive than honeybees and will attack unprovoked unlike true bees, which attack only when they feel threatened.

Yellow jackets do not derive nutrition from pollen, and instead forage and hunt protein and sugar from sources like carrion, fruit, or whatever meat product you’re trying to sink your teeth into at your backyard barbecue. Wasp colonies are often found living in a hole in the dirt or rotted out trees, but also can be found building their paper-like nests high up in the rafters. Typically, the queens are the only ones to survive through winter, but during milder winter seasons, whole colonies have been known to pull through, allowing them to grow in numbers and explaining why it is that some summers are worse for yellow jacket attacks than others.

So why is it that you can live in harmony with meat bees all spring and summer, but as the warm weather starts to draw to a close, they start to make their presence more known and seem to go on the attack? The short answer: They’re hangry. As fall nears, temps start to cool off and the queen stops laying eggs. There are fewer mouths to feed but food sources start to become scarce. The yellow jackets begin to starve, resulting in them becoming more aggressive.

There are a number of commercial wasp traps available on the market, one of the most popular in our area being the Rescue W-H-Y trap for wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets. Their neon-like yellow can be seen hanging in trees and from rafters around the region. They work particularly great later in the season as wasps become more aggressive, but can be pricey to have to keep rebaiting with store bought attractant.

In spring and early summer, they’re hungry for protein, so a chunk of chicken or beef placed inside the bait compartment will do the trick. I once heard of someone baiting her traps with canned cat food. Later in summer and into fall, they’re after more sugary sustenance (which explains why I don’t catch many earlier in wasp season!), so the store-bought bait works great. You can also make your own sugar-water attractant or use a super sweet substance like syrup or jam.

[Musical Interlude]

So you’ve taken care of your meat bee problem? Let’s talk science and women. Headwaters Science Institute is in the midst of its Women in STEM Speaker Series. You still have three opportunities to listen to prominent women in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics discuss their respective areas of expertise — right from the comfort of your own home. These talks are designed to show kids what careers in STEM look like and to provide a fun element to connecting with scientists even though gathering in person is not presently possible.

With the face of education changing constantly, Headwaters believes it is important to offer free education for all students that is safe to participate in from home. The goal is to teach hands-on science, but through online delivery.

Of this engaging series, Headwaters Science Institute founder and executive director Meg Seifert said, “I’m really excited for our speakers. Our team worked hard to bring in some great women. I also work hard to inspire women in science and we have these amazing women that will be joining us over the two weeks of the fundraiser.”

The series kicked off Aug. 17th with “Mother of Sharks” Melissa Cristina Marquez, a well-known Australian shark scientist who’s been featured on the Nat Geo, BBC, and Discovery channels. On Aug. 18th, career hydrologist Annalise Blum discussed the impacts of flooding. But fret not if you missed out on these first two speakers, you still have three chances to soak up some science knowledge.

 Tonight at 5:30, Mary Ellen Hannibal, author of five critically acclaimed books and pioneer of citizen science, is the featured presenter. Jessica Tse will highlight microbiology and women in science at 11 a.m. on Aug. 25th, and on the evening of Aug. 26th, Tucker Malarkey, author of national best-sellers Stronghold and An Obvious Enchantment, will speak at 5:30.

 Tune-in to these talks for a glimpse into science careers and to learn why science education is important to our community on the Headwaters Science Institute Facebook page or via YouTube Live. These presentations, all of which are followed with a question-and-answer period, are free, but those attending are encouraged to show support by making a donation on the Headwaters website: headwatersscienceinstitute.org

Seifert explained that Headwaters has transitioned all of its program time to online learning, with all of the lessons available at no charge. She noted, “We want every student and teacher to have access regardless of income. Therefore, instead of schools paying a fee for service, we have to raise the money to produce these lessons. Most schools have budget cutbacks as well as increased expenses and they can’t help cover the costs right now. We are committed to working harder than ever to get everyone great science.”

You can find these and other local items of interest in the August print edition of Moonshine Ink, on newsstands now, or at moonshineink.com. Support local journalism. Become a member at moonshineink.com/members/.

August 18, 2020 Moonshine Minutes

Transcript

Part 1: (Alex)

Around 7 a.m. on the morning of April 20, Charles Borden, known as Bill by friends and family, was upset.

He’d left the room he shared with his wife, Beverly, at the Tahoe Forest Health System’s long-term care center to fill two cups of water. When he came back, two certified nursing assistants were helping his wife get out of her bed and into her wheelchair.

Bill expressed his agitation through curse words, set down the water cups, and elbowed one of the CNAs in the back.

Today’s Moonshine Minutes cover an alarming situation actively taking place at Tahoe Forest Hospital. I’m Alex Hoeft, news reporter for Moonshine Ink, and co-author for this piece..

It wasn’t Bill Borden’s first outburst in 24 hours. The previous day, Bill, who’s diagnosed with dementia, had been alone in the care center’s dining room with another resident when he’d struck her in the back.

The two incidents were seemingly the last straw for the care facility. Later that morning of April 20, the decision was made to transfer Bill to the Tahoe Forest Hospital emergency room for evaluation, citing welfare and needs that couldn’t be met at the facility and concern for the safety of individuals on site.

It’s now been nearly four months since the Bordens, married for 55 years and reportedly rarely apart, have seen each other. The Bordens ask for each other every day, able to connect via FaceTime, but nothing more.

Fighting for their unification is their son Jon Borden, who’s poured his time and energy into asking, begging, and then legally demanding his father be allowed to return to Beverly’s side.

But the hospital district administration just won’t budge, continuing to express its concern for the safety of staff and residents alike. However, TFHS’s refusal goes against what multiple state agencies have ruled: that the hospital did not follow protocol in either transferring Bill nor allowing him to return to the care facility, and that he should legally and rightfully be reunited with his wife until proper steps can be taken.

The situation has floored even those who are so often in the midst of and defending rights for nursing home residents. Mike Dark, staff attorney with California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, told Moonshine that Bill’s case is “among the worst I have ever seen. And that is partly because it involves a married couple that were living together, spending their last time together in a facility. We had the facility go so far as to accuse Mr. Borden, a man with dementia, of posing an unlawful danger of violence, which is a terribly cruel thing to do even if it’s part of a legal strategy they have. I don’t understand as human beings why they thought that was okay.”

After Bill was looked over by emergency room staff and then denied readmittance to the care facility — information that was shared with his son Jon, Kathy Freeman, Nevada County volunteer ombudsman, stepped in.

“He called and he asked a very good question: He said, do I need to get an attorney?” Freeman recalled. “I said, you know, I think you do.”

Part 2: (Becca)

It’s not that the facility wanting Bill out of their care was illegal — there are multiple state laws and regulations protecting residents from illegal eviction; rather, the manner in which administrative staff went about attempting to discharge him is what resulted in a state citation and continuing civic penalties since July 16 and until Bill is readmitted to the care facility. And at least for the time being, with the type of care Bill needs and most nursing homes not accepting new patients in the pandemic, Bill remains in the emergency room rather than a shelter.

I’m Becca Loux, associate editor for Moonshine Ink.

Both the California Department of Public Health and the Department of Health Care Services ruled that TFHS violated the bed-hold policy that requires notification of a resident’s bed being held for seven days after a transfer or therapeutic leave; the return policy that allows a resident to return to their bed after a transfer or leave; and a violation of the discharge planning process.

Information presented in this reporting came from state agency and court rulings, as well as interviews with those involved. Despite publicly available documentation on the case, which includes the names of individuals involved, TFHS declined to comment on the situation, pointing to the pending litigation, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (more commonly known as HIPAA), California Medical Information Act, and confidentiality for this case specifically.

As power of attorney for both his parents, Jon Borden gave permission for the hospital to co nmment on the situation based on what was already publicly available, but the hospital maintained its silence.

Paige Thomason, marketing and communications director for the health system, wrote in an email: “We do understand that sometimes community members or their representatives will contact local media to attempt to create pressure to influence a certain outcome. [TFHS] is committed to ensuring optimal safety for all of our patients and team members, including those involved in this inquiry.”

Thomason further explained that because the health system can’t provide direct comments regarding the case, “the community should understand our legal and ethical restrictions and our responsibility to protect the privacy and personal circumstances of all of our patients.”

Part 3: (Alex)

Bill Borden’s proximity to both the CNA he elbowed and the resident he struck could’ve been avoided.

In fact, based on a care plan created March 4 of this year, neither of the women should’ve been anywhere near him.

As an ombudsman, Kathy Freeman’s role is a semi-neutral one: while she advocates for residents at long-term care facilities throughout Nevada County, she also utilizes mediation tactics to work with care center staff.

Freeman said: “We were very aware of the concerns the facility had and we were trying to work with the facility [regarding Bill]. I especially was interested in trying to find a path that would bring both the facility and the family together, and I thought we had that up until March. I really thought we were working with the facility and coming up with a care plan that would work.”

Leading up to the March meeting, the care facility had implemented numerous interventions to help Bill feel more comfortable. These methods included adjusting medication, evaluating his psychiatric state, and refocusing him to positive behaviors.

During the care plan conference, it was recognized by all the parties, Jon said, that his father had two triggers when it came to his violent outbursts: the specific CNA and resident. 

Jon Borden told us the game plan was to minimize interactions with trigger situations or people. “We all agreed … It wasn’t me talking — it was during a care conference meeting which Dr. Paul was present; Maggie [Link, director of the skilled nursing facility] was present; Todd Johnson, the risk manager, was present; Laura Murtha, the supervisor, was present; Kathy [Freeman], the ombudsman. It was a group of educated, hands-on people, and Maggie should’ve walked out the door and gave her marching orders to her staff. And nothing really happened.”

Multiple certified nursing assistants interviewed by the Department of Public Health confirmed that they weren’t informed of the care plan.

On April 20, Freeman notified her program manager, Sergio Landeros, and her office of the alarming situation unfolding, that Bill had been barred from returning to the long-term care facility without proper protocol being followed. She also cross-reported the unfolding circumstances to the state department of health on April 21. The ombudsman program HQ, realizing the unlawfulness of the situation, reached out to California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (also known as CANHR), a frequent partner for legal support.

By April 22, CANHR’s Mike Dark, officially representing Bill, had also requested an investigation with the Department of Health Care Services.

A DHCS hearing was held on May 5, and by May 15 the agency had issued the decision that Bill be readmitted to the long-term care facility. According to Jon’s declaration to the Nevada County superior court, three days later, Karen Baffone, chief nursing officer for the hospital, called Jon and told him his father would not be readmitted, despite the DHCS decision.

On June 9, the department of public health  issued its own findings in the form of a statement of deficiencies, which lists out state violations committed by the health facility and requires a plan of correction for each violation in return.

In an Aug. 3 email, Olivia Tucker, an attorney with the agency, told Dark the TFHS has not submitted an acceptable corrective plan. In addition to the continuing civil penalty applied each day from July 16 until Bill is readmitted, Tucker explained that the CDPH plans to issue a directed plan of correction, meaning the facility must take constructive action within certain timeframes.

Part 4: (Becca)

On June 23, the hospital doubled down on its refusal to readmit Bill by filing a petition for a workplace violence restraining order with the superior court in Nevada County — an attempt to protect its care staff from further aggression by Bill. This petition came after both the CDPH and the DHCS issued their decisions. The temporary restraining order (or TRO) was granted on June 24, with a hearing set for July 13.

Mike Dark told us: “These restraining orders, it’s like a kind of person who shows up with a gun at work, the kind of person who punches out a secretary working in a corporate office. They brought that kind of petition for workplace violence against an 80-year-old man with dementia who couldn’t lift a half gallon of milk because they so couldn’t bear being forced legally to readmit him and bring him back to his wife, even if only for long enough for the family to try to find another place to go once the pandemic had passed.”

He saw the TRO as another attempt at barring Bill from the long-term care facility; a proactive move, as Dark described it, by the hospital to prevent the enforcement of the CDHCS and CDPH orders.

On July 15, Judge Angela Bradrick ruled that, while recognizing that TFHS’s claims that it no longer has “the capacity to treat someone with [Bill’s] behavior problems,” the appropriate procedure to remove Borden from the care facility was not followed. Additionally, “the court finds that [Bill’s] medical condition (dementia) explains and/or excuses his unlawful violence.”

The temporary restraining order was immediately dissolved with the judge’s ruling.

Part 5: (Alex)

The transfer of Bill to the emergency room followed by a refusal of readmittance to the long-term care facility is actually a common tactic countrywide. Formally, it’s known as an illegal discharge; casually, it’s been called patient dumping.

Dark said: “What this really comes down to is the fact that there’s lots of incentives for nursing homes to want to get rid of certain patients who are difficult, patients who are emotional, who cry a lot, who ask for lots of attention.” 

But the most troubling type of patient dumping, he continued, happens to those often with behavioral problems at nursing homes who are sent to an emergency room for something. 

Once the patient is out the door, the facility refuses to readmit him or her.

Dark says this refusal of readmission is so common that laws have actually been put in place to try to prevent it. One of these laws involves a seven-day bed-hold — basically, the facility must keep the patient’s bed open for seven days, inform the resident and/or representative of this hold, and readmit the resident if wanted.

Part 6: (Becca)

Another reason long-term care facilities might look to oust patients is financial. Like many facilities, TFHS is certified to accept Medicare and Medi-Cal as forms of coverage. But there’s a history preceding the back end of this coverage, said Sergio Landeros, who oversees ombudsmen across seven California counties.

“Nursing homes were designed to be a temporary place. It wasn’t designed for you to be there the remainder of your life. But as the aging population is growing and as more and more older adults are being placed long term in a nursing home because they need 24-hour care, there is such thing as a long-term care service.”

Medicare serves as a federal health insurance program for those over 65. Medical bills are covered through the trust funds of those who’ve paid into them. Medi-Cal, essentially California’s version of Medicaid, steps in as an assistance program for low-income individuals or those whose Medicare funds have run out. The asterisk in many long-term care facilities is that Medi-Cal does not pay the same amount as Medicare.

Dark explained it: “Sometimes, especially if patients are on Medi-Cal, they maybe are bringing in $300 a day, whereas if they can get a patient on MediCare, they could be making $1,000 a day … But [Medicare] only lasts for up to 90 days, more frequently 30 days. Nursing homes like Medicare patients because those 30 days are lucrative days. But then at the end of those 30 days, they’re in a bind because they don’t want to keep them.”

Hence, the second common method of patient dumping, continued Landeros: getting rid of Medi-Cal residents because facilities want to have more open beds for Medicare patients who can come in for temporary rehab, then leave after a few weeks.

Both Bill and Beverly are covered through Medi-Cal, having run through their Medicare coverage at a previous facility.

Freeman emphasized that while dementia patients may be difficult, “[nursing facilities] are supposed to provide proper protection of all residents, they’re supposed to provide proper supervision. If that involves a specialized staffing that’s one of the things that they’re to provide. Most importantly, though, the home itself — and I’m talking generically here — any nursing facility should be able to have people who are trained in dementia care.”

Part 7: (Alex)

No one who spoke with Moonshine could put their finger on exactly why the hospital is disregarding state decisions and dealing with daily fines to prevent Bill from returning to the facility. But they have their ideas.

Dark questioned whether the motive could be financial, or if there are political concerns at play.

The events that have taken place since April 20 resulted in an about-face in what was a decent relationship between Jon and the hospital. During the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic hitting Truckee, Jon says he received a call from Ted Owens, executive director over governance and business development.

As a backup plan for a potential COVID-19 case surge and spill-over into the hospital’s long-term care facility, Owens allegedly asked Jon (who owns the Truckee Donner Lodge and the Inn at Truckee) if the hospital might place its facility residents in Jon’s lodging, and Jon agreed.

“I had memorandums of understanding with the hospital,” he said. “Fast forward a week later, this shit happened with my dad and they [went from] my ally to my biggest enemy in one phone call.”

Part 8: (Becca)

COVID-19’s presence has put a freeze on the transfer of residents to new long-term care facilities, which is why Bill has remained in the hospital. But once restrictions lift, Jon says he can’t wait to move his parents out of TFHS: “I trust the hospital as far as I can throw them.”

A week shy of Bill’s four-month mark of separation from Beverly, and he’s had zero incidents or outbursts, according to Jon.

Because the situation is still ongoing, Dark explained that he and Jon have to walk a careful line.

“The family’s really terribly angry at what the district did, but we’re so dependent on them doing the right thing, too,” he said. “What we want most of all, whatever our anger, is for Bill and Bevrerly to be reunited … This is a family that has really been split in a terrible time of crisis and even if it’s just for a few months, even if [the health system] continue[s] to pursue their other legal avenues, I sure hope they do the right thing.”

Read the full story in more detail at moonshineink.com, titled Dementia Discharge.

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Until tomorrow, everyone.