VOX POPULI: ‘A Huge Mistake’

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Sakura Intermediate Care Facility resident Takako Morita (center) with her family at a recent birthday celebration.

This statement is made by the son (Walter Morita) and daughters (Jennifer Kerr, Laura Bethel and Judy Kaneshiro) of Takako Morita, a resident at Sakura Intermediate Care facility (formerly known as Keiro) in Boyle Heights.

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In 2011, our mother — who was totally independent, who would jump on the bus to go shopping for herself, who could maintain her household after the death of our dad — accidentally had a serious fall and fractured her vertebra, which changed the course of her life at the age of 87.

After being hospitalized, she was taken to the Keiro facility in Lincoln Heights for rehab.  It was there that she found security and peace of mind, as we did, under the care and watchful eye of their dedicated staff. Our mom gradually regained her mobility and confidence; enough so as to be moved to the Intermediate Care Facility (ICF) in Boyle Heights.

As we visited her daily, we realized that there was no way that we could match the 24-hour care that she was receiving. Our mom felt safe and comfortable at Keiro. She felt a part of a warm and loving community that not only provided necessary medical assistance, but also provided social activities involving engaging with other residents. The staff was very attentive and totally dedicated, and put our fears to rest.

Therefore, we were concerned when we first learned that the Keiro facilities were up for sale. We had many questions. We attended meetings on the Boyle campus for the families of the residents in the ICF. Keiro CEO Sean Miyake spoke about there no longer being a need for a residential facility for Japanese seniors. He said there are not many who want to come to a Japanese facility anymore. He added that Obamacare would put our facilities in financial jeopardy. None of these points was ever substantiated.

Our concerns grew as the sale moved towards closing. The Keiro Board was making a huge mistake. To our surprise, the Keiro Board appeared more adamant to sell as the number of individuals in the community who questioned the sale mushroomed.

Two of us attended an open community meeting held at Nishi Hongwanji, and we were both shocked at what we saw and heard. The board was not acting in good faith. We witnessed a heavy-handed, manipulative “community meeting” — a meeting called after strong pressure from the community.

About 500 or 600 people were in attendance. The meeting was scheduled for two hours, but because the board controlled and manipulated the agenda, people from the community spoke for less than 30 minutes. The crowd repeatedly booed when it became clear what the board was trying to do.

The Keiro Board went ahead with the sale of the Keiro facilities for reasons that were never made clear, and with arguments that were never convincing. We remember visiting our mother and we would see Keiro staff crying in the hallways. We knew that many of the Keiro staff felt betrayed.

But to this day, the staff has stayed true to their mission to do their best, day in and day out, for the residents of Keiro. Even with the administrative staff support, we feel the clock ticking. Pacifica, the new buyer, must keep the food and social activities the same for five years. A year and a half has passed. What happens 3½ years from now? Sakura can be sold and turned into condos with a view of the city skyline. We don’t know.

If Keiro was having serious financial difficulties, then why not develop contingency plans? For example, institute cost-cutting measures, or create plans to raise revenue. Did the board put out a call to the community to raise funds?

If the reason was due to a drop in names on the waiting list, did the board conduct a demographic study based on census data? Immigrants usually come in waves. If there was a drop, could the drop be due to a temporary lull between waves? You can’t know unless you study the data.

We never received a clear explanation of what the problems were, yet the solution that the board came up with was to sell the properties without consideration of other options.

Gary Kawaguchi, the former Keiro Board chair, gave perhaps the strangest explanation. At the community meeting held at Nishi Hongwanji, Mr. Kawaguchi stated that Keiro Nursing Home was not intended for the Shin Issei — people of Japanese decent who immigrated to the U.S. after WWII. He didn’t explain.

Over the years, Keiro accepted Shin Issei volunteers. Shin Issei doctors, nurses and other staff provided care for the residents of Keiro. Yet somehow they were not good enough to reside there?

No less than the Honorable Norman Mineta stated at a community meeting held at Centenary United Methodist Church that the reasons given for selling the nursing homes “made no sense.”

The board is currently sitting on $70 million in assets. We ask: Would the people who donated to Keiro over the years have done so if they knew the board was going to abandon the residents and sell the properties? Over 17,000 people — those who signed a petition to the state attorney general to stop the sale — think not.

We ask that members of the Keiro Board take a hard look at the decision made. We hope that there are a few of you with the courage to admit a mistake was made and who are willing to convince the rest of the board to work with the community to make things right. That means getting back into the business of providing residential healthcare for the elderly of JA descent.

With the exception of the Southern California Gardeners Federation, we know of no other community organization that has issued a statement to stop the sale, or commented on the need to restore housing for the elderly after the sale became final.

Now, the Keiro Board is doling out money to community organizations. Once money is accepted, it will be even more unlikely that any organization will speak up.

We know that many of the Japanese American organizations must be as concerned as we are. We need to hear your voices of support for the elderly now, while we can still do something to correct the wrong that was perpetrated on our loved ones. To not say anything is truly shameful.

We have never informed our mother about the sale of Keiro, but occasionally we wonder how she would react if she was told that the Keiro Board sold all of the Keiro facilities to a private, for-profit company that can do whatever they want with the properties after five years. What would my mother say? We believe that her overall reaction would be unbelieving.

Our mother’s reaction might go like this:

Uso [lie]! Am I invisible? Are the residents here in the nursing home invisible? How can the facilities be sold if we are still here? You say the Keiro Board sold ICF to a private, for-profit company? And we only have 3½ years to go? How do they know we will all be gone in 3½ years? Uso! No way.

“I see administrative staff, CNAs and other staff every day. They still say hello to me every time I see them — Beverly, Yumi, Yoshie, and all the others. They are still taking good care of me. Besides, the kanji written on the building wall is still there: ‘KEIRO.’ Keiro means ‘revere the elderly.’

“Sell Keiro while we are still alive? No Japanese would ever do that to a toshiyori. Never!

Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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