VOICES OF KOREISHA: Nikkei Senior Facilities — Whom Do We Need Them For?

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By HIROKO KIMURA

When my mother passed away at the former Keiro Nursing Home on May 15, 2002, she was just four days shy of her 71st birthday. Mother died 6 months after Father’s passing in October 2001.

She had undergone breast cancer surgery but the cancer recurred sometime after the surgery. While going through radiation treatment, Mother cared for my ill father at home. I was busy around that time raising small children, and so was my sister.

My sister was living in another prefecture in Japan that was far away from where our parents were, and so she was not able to help them. I was already living in Los Angeles County and could not be with Mother. I felt guilty and regretful and it pained me to be in the situation that I was in.

Soon after Father died, Mother’s doctor in Japan informed me that her condition was becoming quite serious with the disease spreading. I wanted her to be seen by a cancer specialist in Los Angeles. At that time, my son was graduating from a Japanese school in Los Angeles, and I decided to use this as an opportunity to convince Mother, who was living by herself then, to come and join us. I asked if she would attend her grandson’s graduation, and she agreed.

With each passing day in Los Angeles, Mother’s condition worsened. Whenever her pleural effusion (fluid in the chest) increased enough to cause breathing difficulty, it had to be drained. Although she never lost her courage and willingness to live, she begged me to take her to the hospital on the day that she became too weak to go to the bathroom by herself.

When she was admitted to Keiro Nursing Home, they held a family conference for us. Observing how the Keiro staff was talking to mother in Japanese, I felt tremendous gratitude and was overcome with tears.

My husband had been quite helpful in caring for Mother at home, and so I had hoped to have her with us as long as possible. But this quickly came to an end because of her grave condition. I had concerns about sending Mother to a nursing home because she did not understand English at all. I was worried about how she would be treated.

Mother passed away at night on the following day. I was in sorrow at her bedside, but the warm, consoling words of the staff gave me strength. I was very thankful to them and to Keiro Nursing Home, and I felt in my heart that I made the right decision to have her receive care there.

Families that lost their loved ones at Keiro must have felt the same confidence and gratitude as I did toward the nursing home and its staff.

In February 2016, all four Keiro facilities — the Nursing Home at Lincoln Heights where Mother was, Keiro Retirement Home, South Bay Keiro Nursing Home, and the Intermediate Care Facility — were sold to a profit-making company. The Keiro Board ignored the voices of the Nikkei community, which strongly opposed the sale and sincerely requested a public hearing. My heart was crushed, realizing the huge loss for many Nikkei families like mine.

In a book entitled “A Man Who Invited Olympic Games to Tokyo with a Burning Desire to Make a Dream Come True,” Ryo Takasugi documents Fred Isamu Wada’s life. Takasugi describes a scene in which Mr. Wada, who dedicated himself to founding Keiro Senior Facilities, spoke at the Japanese Consulate General in Los Angeles. He stated:

“We surely did our best to prepare homes for Nikkei seniors who suffered so much in the past. But, helping the old generations was not our only purpose.We did it for the younger generations, too. They need to work in the United States without having to worry about their parents and grandparents. To have them do so, we built the senior facilities….

“I want them to be more aggressive in the business world. They sometimes say they must be conservative since they wouldn’t be able to care for their parents and grandparents if they fail in their business. They also worry about their own life after retirement. I tell them, DON’T WORRY! DO YOUR BEST IN YOUR BUSINESS WITHOUT BEING BOTHERED ABOUT OTHER THINGS.

“I can say this now because I know that we can take good care of the old folks at these facilities.”

Mr. Wada passed away in February 2001.

Exactly 15 years after Mr. Wada’s passing, the Keiro Board, led by a Sansei CEO, gave up on managing the facilities. They tried to convince the community that selling the facilities to a profit-making company would better serve the Nikkei seniors than having them be where they were.

Shall we feel sorry for ourselves that we lost our valued institution? Or shall we say that it was a mere misfortune? How can we deal with this loss?

At the time of the sale, the California Attorney General stipulated that the culturally sensitive care would be maintained at the same level for five years. Now, less than a year remains of this period.

The Nikkei senior facilities were founded for both the older and the younger generations. That was clearly the founders’ original idea. It is important for us to return to the original idea to contemplate the real needs of the Nikkei community that still exist today.

Senior facilities are where people find safety and peace in the final stage of their lives. They should not be allowed to disappear forever.

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Hiroko Kimura is a long-time resident of Los Angeles. She is a mother, and a volunteer of various community services, including those that pertain to helping the Nikkei seniors. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

 

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