By MIA NAKAJI MONNIER and NAO NAKANISHI
Rafu Staff writers
Protest continues to escalate in Little Tokyo in response to Keiro Senior HealthCare’s decision to sell its retirement and nursing homes to for-profit Pacifica Companies.
Keiro CEO Shawn Miyake previously told The Rafu Shimpo he would not consider holding an open meeting for the community regarding the sale, but this Thursday, his office announced it would have just such a meeting on Oct. 15. Representatives from Pacifica and Aspen Skilled Healthcare Inc., which will operate Keiro’s nursing and intermediate care homes, will also attend. (Retirement home operator North Star Healthcare Inc. will not be represented.)
It’s difficult not to see this decision as a direct response to community protest. On Sept. 29, the Ad Hoc Committee to Save Keiro held its own first public forum, where a panel composed mostly of doctors who care for Keiro residents presented its concerns. By the end of the night, the committee’s membership had more than doubled.
A Rafu Shimpo column by local real estate advisor Jon Kaji (with the inflammatory title “The Sale of Keiro — Oyasute no Hi?”) has also helped the movement gain traction. Because of Kaji’s combination of business knowledge and fiery rhetoric, protesters have come to see him as one of their leaders. At the Ad Hoc Committee’s planning meeting on Oct. 7, he wore a red golf shirt. “My parents told me to wear red,” he said, of Bruce and Frances Kaji. “They said, ‘You’re going to war.’” His statements throughout the meeting showed that he agreed with this sentiment. “If you mess with our seniors, you deserve a special place in hell,” he said to applause.
On Oct. 6, two representatives from the committee met privately with Miyake. Committee co-chair Charles Igawa and 1963 Nisei Week Queen Helen Funai Erickson hoped to appeal to the CEO on a personal level. “Mr. Miyake was very charming,” said Erickson. “But he’s very elusive about answering directly. It’s always, ‘it’s online.’” Still, it was during this conversation that Miyake first mentioned the possibility of an open meeting.
The committee hopes to make similar appeals to board members as well, before the close of escrow, which Keiro expects to happen in early 2016. Although they unanimously agreed to the sale, Lynn Arthurs, former board member of East West Players, said, “We know them as friends and community leaders. These are all Little Tokyo people. These are people who need to come to a meeting and tell us why they did it.”
In the meantime, the committee is focusing on two petitions: one to Keiro, and one to State Attorney General Kamala Harris. Although the attorney general’s office held an open-comment period as it considered whether or not to approve Keiro’s proposed sale, committee member Ray Hamaguchi thinks the public didn’t mobilize during that time because it didn’t yet know the conditions of the sale. Those conditions — which include keeping intact Japanese-targeted care and existing policies regarding Medicare and Medi-Cal — will last for five years after the sale. Once that period ends, Pacifica can make its own decisions about how to manage the facilities.
These petitions have not yet gained momentum among Keiro residents. Cherry Ishimatsu is president of residents at the Keiro Retirement Home. At lunchtime, she makes announcements, which must be pre-approved by the administration. On Oct. 5, fellow resident S. Dahn asked Ishimatsu to include an announcement about the petition, but Miyake declined the request, saying that Dahn should approach residents personally instead. “Mr. Dahn made an attempt,” wrote Ishimatsu in an email to The Rafu, “but with no success, he discontinued his effort.”
According to multiple sources, including Rafu columnist Wimpy Hiroto, who lives in the retirement home, residents who wish to stop the sale feel hesitant to organize, fearing retaliation from Keiro. Many also say they need more information besides what little is written on the petition forms themselves before they sign their names.
The Ad Hoc Committee is now working to refine its petitions, its flyers, and its message overall. Within the group, members disagree about how best to organize — whether to focus on creating a mass movement or approaching from a legal angle, for example—and the majority are not Internet-savvy.
At its public meeting on Sept. 29, one audience member mentioned the Eaton Collection, a private collection of artifacts from the World War II concentration camps that sparked protest when their owner attempted to auction them off in April. That movement happened largely online, where it was able to reach the attention of mainstream news outlets and actor George Takei, who likely has the largest social media following of anyone in the Japanese American community. Multiple committee members have said they need younger activists on their side in order to spread their message.
Leadership has also been a problem for the Ad Hoc Committee. Styles within the group vary, from Kaji, who focuses on connections with politicians and CPAs, to Mo Nishida, who came of age during the civil rights movement and still speaks like an activist of the ’60s, saying things like, “Let’s get in there and jam things up,” to doctors like Takeshi Matsumoto, who know the residents well but whose patient workloads leave them little time to organize a movement. This means a haphazard if passionate group with no one, unifying leader.
Meanwhile, Keiro is a well-organized company whose public relations strategy is consistent and tough, albeit unpopular. If the community’s messages are boiling, Keiro’s are placid, spoken in the impersonal diction of press releases rather than in plain language. Because Keiro cares for a vulnerable population, is sustained by donations, and is part of a tiny, interconnected community, the public expects more from its leaders—at the least, a kinder, easier-to-understand style, based on face-to-face communication.
Upcoming Meetings Regarding Keiro
• Tuesday, Oct. 13: Second public forum of Ad Hoc Committee to Save Keiro, 6 p.m., Centenary United Methodist Church, 300 S. Central Ave. (at Third Street), Los Angeles
• Thursday, Oct. 15: Open meeting with Keiro, Pacifica, and Aspen, 6 p.m., Los Angeles Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple (Nishi Hongwanji), 815 E. First St. (at Vignes Street), Los Angeles