By Mia Nakaji Monnier and Nao Nakanishi
Rafu Staff Writers
On September 23, The Rafu Shimpo interviewed Keiro CEO Shawn Miyake. Following are selected quotes from that interview that address some of the community’s most commonly asked questions about the sale of Keiro’s facilities.
In this interview, Miyake refers to the companies Northstar and Aspen. When Pacifica buys Keiro’s facilities, these companies will operate the retirement home and nursing homes, respectively.
Where is Keiro in the sale process?
SM: Where we are now is that the sale has been approved, the conditions have been established, they have been accepted by the operators and the buyer, and we’re heading towards a close of escrow sometime early next year.
Have the new operators worked with culturally sensitive senior facilities before?
SM: [Northstar has] one, I think it’s in Florida. A Jewish home. And when we vetted the company, the first question Diane and I asked the company was, “Do you have experience with culturally sensitive…” and they said, “Oh yeah, we have a Jewish home with a kosher kitchen.” They said, “Believe me, we know, don’t touch anything, leave it alone, let it operate.”
We asked Aspen, “Do you have experience?” They said, “Oh yeah.” They have a facility in Westminster that is for the Vietnamese community. It’s very well oriented towards taking care of Vietnamese: the menu — I saw the food, it’s very good, it’s Vietnamese; many of the staff, I’d say half the staff speak Vietnamese… So the kind of the thing you hope would stay like this, they’ve done it. They felt very comfortable.
Do they have experience with the Japanese American community?
SM: The operator of the retirement home (Northstar), the owners lived in Japan. They’re hakujin but they speak some Japanese. The person who is the president, part-owner of Aspen, who is doing the nursing homes is Hapa — he’s half Japanese. And he says, “My auntie was at South Bay Keiro, and I used to visit her.”
I found those connections very interesting. I was very pleased. I think the residents are very pleased to hear that at least there’s sensitivity in the ownership. So I don’t think we could have done better. I really don’t. They both have good reputations.
What will happen to Keiro’s current staff and volunteers?
SM: The buyer and the operators have to hire all facilities staff — everybody. We have made sure that the volunteers and staff are going to stay here.
Will the name of the facilities change?
SM: We are not going to allow them to use our brand. Because last time, we allowed Ensign (the last potential buyer) possibly to do that, and it was confusing.
How will Keiro manage the $41 million they receive for their facilities?
SM: As we move forward, we’re going to make sure that the money that’s set aside — particularly from the proceeds — we’re going to make sure we never spend it. We’re only going to spend the interest.
So let’s just say that somebody is going to make — I mean, let’s say that we make $30 million. People don’t understand, right, they’re thinking more simply. They say, “Oh, you have $30 million. Oh, could I have some?” I mean, that’s really what people are saying to us. “Could I have some of that?” And you go, “No, no, it doesn’t work like that,” right?
Now, we’re going to make sure it’s protected, it’s supervised properly. We’ve been doing this for 50 years, we’re experts at it, and then we’re just going to spend the interest. Our hope is that that money is available to our community — however it evolves — forever. That’s a big responsibility, and we are taking it seriously.
How can community members be sure that Keiro will use the money the way they claim they will?
SM: We are one of the only organizations in the Japanese community that publishes audited financials. If you look around, most people don’t do that. You can ask for it, but you have to go down to the office. We put them on — if you go to our website, you’ll see audited financials. We’ve been doing that for over 15 years.
And if people are concerned about money — the money — and it’s not everybody’s responsibility to worry about it, but they have an opinion. They should look at those reports because they’re published every year. So here’s what you do. You take the balance sheet, and you look at it. And then after escrow closes, you look at the next balance sheet — audited, okay, which means we can’t lie. It’s audited.
So if one year you have $10 million, and the next year you have $50 million, you say you have it, right? It’s audited. If you have $10 million, and the next year you have $28 million, that doesn’t sound right. Right? Something didn’t happen in the math. So I always share that with people, that if you’re really concerned and you have curiosity, look at our audited financials. We publish them every year. We have no secrets about that. We are an extremely transparent organization, despite what people think.
How will the sale affect the way donations are used?
SM: We do annual fundraising. And you have to remember, this is a $40 million operation. It’s a big operation. It’s not like $100,000. So every year we have an operating loss, and it’s millions of dollars. It’s quite large. And so when people donate to us, it’s used in the year it was given to pay for the expenses.
So if we raise $1 million, we use it to offset the loss. So if someone gave money every year for 50 years, the money was already spent.
Will Keiro have an open meeting with the community to discuss the sale?
SM: We’ve already done that. Throughout the last three years, we’ve done that in many, many locations.
What about the Community Advisory Board that will oversee the new owners? How will members be selected? Will there be a representative for residents or community members?
SM: Keiro will have a chance to select the people on the Community Advisory Board. We think there will be about seven or eight people on it. So one of our questions from our residents today was, you know, ‘We’re the ones affected, right, so do we get a choice?’ But nobody would volunteer. It’s a lot of work. So over those five years, we’re going to have people like that.
The other people that we’re probably going to put on the committee will be individuals who have knowledge and experience with Keiro. We don’t want to just pick people out of the community who don’t know us. I mean, that’s silly. It’s kind of a special committee. So we’re going to make sure we get people that know us, that have worked with us, and have worked in our facilities, you know, that kind of thing.
How can community members learn more?
SM: Where I direct anyone in the general community is to go to our website. We have been, over the past four years, extremely available through our website. It would take me two hours to explain to most people what’s going on because they have a lot of questions. On the website, you go back and you look chronologically over the last four years, everything we’ve printed, starting with three articles in The Rafu that explain the case for why we made the decision we did. And a lot of people tell me, they say, “Well, I’m upset, I don’t know what’s going on.” And I say, “Well, have you gone to the website?” “No.”
This is an ongoing story. More articles about Keiro’s sale to come.
If Mr. Miyake states that “we” will do this or that does he have Northstar, Aspens, and Pacifica’s written promise that this will occur? Can a neutral 3rd party review the contract and state what will change 1, 3, or 5+ years from now? Can the residents and their families be told definitively what the conditions of the sale are as it applies to them? The contracts that the residents agreed to had best be reviewed so that they are in line with the sale. The evasiveness or silence or “see the web site” from the new owners only feeds the fear of the residents. Unless the new owners are open to all access of information, there is probably a relative-lawyer who will file an injunction to prevent the close of escrow for as long as it takes.
ps. a lone Jewish home with a kosher kitchen in Florida does not equate to a Japanese home where Japanese language and customs is spoken and understood by the doctors, nurses, and staff. The money from the sale does not guarantee the residents anything unless a trust is formed.