VOX POPULI: Visions for Keiro’s Millions

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From left: Sarah Wiltfong, district director for Assemblymember David Hadley, and Reps. Judy Chu and Maxine Waters reaffirmed support for Koreisha’s goals.

From left: Sarah Wiltfong, district director for Assemblymember David Hadley, and Reps. Judy Chu and Maxine Waters reaffirmed support for Koreisha’s goals. (Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

By DAVID WATANABE, Koreisha Senior Care and Advocacy

On Oct. 15, about 250 members of the community attended a public forum hosted by Koreisha Senior Care and Advocacy (KSCA) at Centenary United Methodist Church in Little Tokyo. I would like to summarize some of the speeches.

The title of the forum was “Visions for Keiro’s Millions” and one of the purposes was to inform the community what KSCA is doing going forward as well as to solicit input from the community as to how the money, approximately $70 million, should be spent by the new Keiro.

Speakers at the forum included U.S. Congresswomen Maxine Waters and Judy Chu, Assemblyman David Hadley’s representative Sarah Wiltfong, Mary Uyematsu Kao, Mark Masaoka, Bruce Ishimatsu, Mo Nishida, John Hira, Sachiko Morita, Seiji Horio, John Kanai, Dr. Kenji Irie, Keiko Ikeda, Ph.D, and Dr. Takeshi Matsumoto. Keiro was invited to speak but declined.

Rep. Chu praised the community for bringing this issue (including providing culturally sensitive care) to light as it is an important issue at all levels of government. “Together we can ensure that the 600 residents currently living in Kei-Ai facilities continue to receive the best care possible.”

Rep. Chu is working with the California State Assembly to hold a hearing on preserving culturally competent facilities in the future for California. “No community should have to worry about losing quality, in-language care because of a sale or a lack of funding.”

Rep. Waters spoke. “We have some work to do and that work is going to include another meeting with Keiro with our leadership and we’re going to tell them in no uncertain terms what it is we expect, what we want, what we’re going to fight for and what we must have.”

She wants to be present at the meeting with Keiro to let everyone know that we don’t stand alone. “What they have done is wrong. It is unconscionable. And we’ve got to make it known and not only to Keiro know but to the newspapers, to the radio stations, to the television stations. Everybody has got to understand what has happened here. Not only should we be working not to allow this to ever happen again but we’ve got to continue to work for justice for the residents of Keiro.”

Assemblyman Hadley will continue to push for a public hearing on the sale and also explore legislation to protect healthcare facilities from the lack of transparency.

Mark Masaoka of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council.

Mark Masaoka of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council.

Dr. Kenji Irie spoke about the changes at the nursing home since the sale, including the reduction of Medicare/Medi-Cal patients (Medi-Medi), a new policy instigated by Aspen, clearly to make more money. The number of Medi-Medi residents is drastically lower than a year ago, and have been replaced with Medicare-only residents. This is not what the founders of Keiro intended. Also, many nurses have resigned, so there are fewer bilingual nurses, which is very critical since many of the residents speak primarily Japanese. This is a loss of culturally sensitive care that was to be maintained for five years as a sale condition.

Mary Uyematsu Kao spoke. “Even for non-Japanese-speaking Sansei, there is a need for culturally sensitive senior care that understands us and provides us with the cultural comforts such as food as one of our last pleasures in life. The idea of Keiro should have been expanded to serve the senior care needs of the English-speaking Nisei and Sansei who wish to spend their remaining years in a place that represents the Japanese American community …

“A new Keiro Board nominated by the larger Japanese American community would be in order. The board has not made the finances of the sale transparent, and there are too many questions left from the sale that need to be answered. Now is the time for our community to come together and try to figure out how to rebuild ourselves for the future. Let’s not allow the business interests of a few Keiro Board members determine it for us.”

Mark Masaoka, policy director for the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, stated, “Asian Americans are made up of very diverse ethnic groups, languages and cultures. It is greatly important that each different Asian ethnic group have retirement homes and health care facilities with culturally and linguistically appropriate services. Former Keiro facilities met this need until the sale.

“Koreisha is now working to meet this need for the Japanese-speaking in our community. Especially for seniors, without these facilities, immigrant seniors can become socially isolated, which is psychologically very debilitating and harmful.”

Bruce Ishimatsu, Community Advisory Board (CAB) chairman, spoke about the purpose of CAB, which is to ensure the 13 sale conditions set by the AG are being followed, especially that the facilities are operated in a culturally sensitive manner. He said:

“CAB is the link between Pacifica and the community. CAB will review Pacifica’s annual report to the AG to see if it complies with the AG’s conditions. One of the most important conditions is No. 8, and that is to operate the facility in a culturally sensitive manner …

“CAB depends on input from residents, families, and the community. Suggestion boxes have been set up at each of the facilities and people can submit the forms anonymously … We encourage … everyone else in the community to speak their mind, to provide information and express their opinion.”

Letters of support were read from the following people/organizations: Japanese Pioneer Center, Kimochi Inc. (San Francisco), Southern California Gardeners’ Association, Okinawa Prefectural Association, Frank Omatsu (one of the founders of Keiro), Aurora Japanese Language Scholarship Foundation, Japanese Welfare Rights Organization, David Monkawa (national assistant organizing director, California Nurses Association), Kaoru Turner (former president of Aomori Prefectural Association), Kimiko Kelly (Asian Pacific Islander coordinator, Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Los Angeles), Yasuko Sakamoto, LCSW (retired social worker), and the Gardena Pioneer Project.

This large group of supporters attests to the community’s overwhelming support of KSCA’s purpose and goals for our Japanese senior citizens. The Keiro Board has often tried to dismiss our movements, the Ad Hoc Committee to Save Keiro and now KSCA, stating we were just a small band of dissidents or activists in the community. Obviously, they tried to delegitimize the groups.

KSCA wants to ensure the legacy continues of the eight Keiro founders, some who mortgaged their own homes to fund the original facilities. Reiterating what has been said in the past, Keiro was the most important icon and success story of the Japanese community. We should not allow it to become just a shell of its original purpose.

What should be done, in my view, is the current Keiro management should hold a community meeting and work together to decide what is the best course going forward. Koreisha is exploring various options — all are about culturally sensitive facilities to care for the elderly. The community for sure has other good ideas or know of other success stories in the U.S. that could be emulated.

And after all, it is the community’s money that Keiro holds. Until Keiro does this, the community will not heal. It is simple as that.

Opinions expressed in Vox Populi are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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