THROUGH THE FIRE: It’s Time for Saving Our Seniors — ‘All Hands on Deck’

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By MARY UYEMATSU KAO

A new group, Save Our Seniors Network (SOS), has recently taken the public stage with an urgent call to extend the Keiro five-year Conditions of Sale, no evictions during the pandemic, and continue the bilingual/bicultural services. The Conditions of Sale, which expire Feb. 1, 2021, have mandated that Pacifica continue the bilingual/bicultural services and they must forewarn residents of any significant changes to the facilities, i.e. conversion into multi-family apartments.

As SOS spokesperson Traci Imamura has said: “SOS’s objective is to inform and unite a broader coalition of individuals, informal groups, and recognized organizations to preserve the Japanese culturally sensitive care at the current facilities beyond the expiration date. The core of SOS members draw from their experiences with Koreisha, CAB (Community Advisory Board), PANA, Nikkei Progressives, NCRR, and others.

“Now is the time for informed individuals and organizations to decide whether they will again stay silent, remain neutral, or choose to stand up to save our seniors. Speaking truth and raising awareness is rallying supporters SOS knew was possible by sharing resources, diverse experiences, connections, and opinions. SOS envisions a united coalition of diverse organizations working together to continue bilingual/bicultural services for seniors.”

Laura Morita Bethel (with microphone) and David Monkawa present a petition to the Keiro Board to buy back or replace the former Keiro facilities, Sept. 14, 2018.

SOS member Taiji Miyagawa describes the current situation: “Just as the original founders of Keiro were aware, glaring inequities in the public healthcare system remain today. The anxiety felt by family members of residents in the facilities are real. If the seniors are forced to leave, where will they go? There are no comparable options anywhere. Many facilities won’t take Medi-Cal patients. There are not enough skilled Japanese-speaking caregivers.

“My family benefited immensely from the bilingual/bicultural services provided to my Issei grandparents by a compassionate staff of the former Keiro facilities. My heart goes out to the current residents and families who are having to face these daunting questions about what is going to happen and what they are going to do. This is why we are working so hard to extend the original Conditions of Sale.”

The CAB was put in place by the AG (attorney general) at the time of the sale from the Keiro Board to Pacifica, establishing conditions for Pacifica to abide by as the buyer of facilities with residents in need of pre-established bilingual/bicultural services. The CAB provides oversight on Pacifica’s compliance with the conditions. Koreisha stopped communications with CAB during a time when Keiro and Pacifica representatives vacated the CAB, likely because of the coming expiration of the Conditions of Sale.

As CAB/SOS member David Monkawa states: “Three members of CAB who were rank-and-file Koreisha members along with other members, felt the residents and their families most impacted should know about the expiration in all four facilities, including the ICF. The Koreisha Board wrote a private letter to the AG ‘demanding an extension,’ but they did not support informing the residents and the community in a broad manner.”

SOS supports Koreisha’s petition to stop the conversion of Sakura Gardens ICF into multi-family apartments. SOS created a second petition for resident/public awareness and support addressing the extension of these conditions that affect all four facilities.

Hana Kawano speaks to the fear faced by residents and their families: “Due to old age and failing health, many cannot walk, cannot talk, don’t understand what is going on, and can’t fight back. I am determined to show up, speak up and stick up for those who can’t. Please join me. This abuse will stop when we all fight back.” Little Tokyo, Sept. 14, 2018.

For the first time in its close to five-year existence, the CAB now has a majority that can advocate for the residents of Kei-Ai-LA, Kei-Ai South Bay, Sakura Garden ICF (intermediate care facility), and Sakura Gardens ALF (assisted living facility). The current chair, Ken Hayashida, MD, explains CAB’s mission under his leadership: “It is my view that CAB’s advocacy for the residents is also advocating appropriately for staff, administrators, and the facilities. There should never be a situation where the interests of the facilities is counter to the interests to the residents.”

Hayashida welcomes the role of SOS in aiding CAB’s ability to do its job: “Up until SOS Network made their petition, there were no specific requests for corrective action before the CAB over the prior four years.”

The SOS petition to the AG was instrumental for the CAB to call the Dec. 10, 2020 Zoom meeting for residents and their families. This was the first time CAB was able to document residents families’ concerns over what will happen at the facilities, especially since Pacifica proposed the conversion of the ICF as their first gentrification move on their facilities. Many residents’ family members participated in the meeting, which went on for close to three hours.

SOS efforts have been joined by a larger chorus of support to extend the conditions. Now, Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi has come up with his own initiative to protect seniors during this pandemic, and Councilman Kevin de Leon has thrown in his support and written a letter to outgoing Attorney General Xavier Becerra to extend the Conditions of Sale. And especially heartening, the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council (BHNC) has joined in the call to extend the conditions.

As Elaine Takahashi reports: “BHNC Planning and Land Use Committee was so supportive and sympathetic with saving Sakura ICF, and they were all so enthusiastic in voting overwhelmingly to support Muratsuchi’s Assembly bill. In addition, they voted unanimously in support of the BHNC Community Impact Statement to ‘demand the extension of Conditions of Sale of Sakura Garden and in support of legislation to block the Pacifica/ICF conversion.’”

David Monkawa (arm extended) energizes Koreisha demonstrators before the march through Little Tokyo, Sept. 14, 2018.

SOS welcomes and applauds all of these actions because that’s what it takes to have any kind of fighting chance. As Shige Kabashima (SOS member and former Koreisha Board member) explains: “Legal action is critical, but the community pressure has to go with it.”

CAB Chair Ken Hayashida took a proactive role getting vaccines distributed to the facilities. Dr. Hayashida describes how CAB was able to facilitate this: “My role was focused on informing some folks higher up in the chain of command that the community’s facilities were not being prioritized in the distribution. The facilities had completed the necessary documents but were not given priority in the distribution process. It’s a sign of the reason that a Community Advisory Board is necessary in the process …

“I have been pursuing more pressing matters of (a) translation of the vaccination and COVID testing documents into Japanese and (b) monitoring movement of vaccines to the facilities in order to intervene in the active COVID contagion in and around the facilities.”

Aileen Toshiyuki, former CAB and Koreisha member, speaks to the important role CAB played for the vaccine distribution: “When the vaccine announcement and instruction translations were distributed, every language was included EXCEPT Japanese. Save Our Seniors group and CAB member Dr. Ken Hayashida gathered Japanese translators who volunteered to translate the announcement in time for distribution to the facilities. Shige Kabashima of SOS organized the volunteer translators. The group included Young Ashworth, Kyoko Taketomi, Saeko Dickinson, Yoko Emori. A BIG THANK YOU!”

With SOS’s press event and car caravan to draw wider public attention to the potential dangers our elders are facing, our friend and resident at Sakura Gardens ALF, Hiroto-san, has again cast his denunciation of any public demonstrations. If he was a little less hateful of community activists, he might realize that he too could benefit from a public outcry against the conversion of the ICF. This conversion will be the beginning of the gentrification/conversion of his own facility into a multi-family, higher-rent building — and an end to the current serene campus at 325 S. Boyle, previously known as Keiro, and before that the Jewish Home for the Aged.

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Mary Uyematsu Kao is a Sansei photojournalist and author of “Rockin’ the Boat: Flashbacks of the 1970s Asian Movement.” She can be reached for comments or feedback at [email protected] Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

 

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