gary Q&A
David Watanabe (foreground) addresses Gary Kawaguchi, Keiro Senior Healthcare board chair, at a meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Keiro at Centenary United Methodist Church on Tuesday. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)


Rafu Staff Writers

Cars overflowed from the Centenary United Methodist Church parking lot Tuesday night for the first public forum of the Ad Hoc Committee to Save Keiro.

“I do want to say before we begin,” said moderator Rev. Mark Nakagawa, his smooth voice betraying his Crenshaw District roots, “that I expect, if not hope, that everyone here tonight will conduct themselves with decorum, treat each other with respect, and have an honest dialogue without being vindictive or mean.”

Over 150 people, mostly over the age of 60, filled the church’s common room. They were gathered to express their concerns about Keiro Senior HealthCare — not only the nonprofit organization’s decision to sell its residential care facilities for $41 million but also the way it communicated that decision to the community.

Last week, corporations Pacifica, Aspen, and Northstar (the buyer and future operators of the facilities, respectively) officially agreed to the conditions put forth by the state attorney general, which require new management to keep certain integral policies—like Japanese-focused service and acceptance of Medicare and Medi-Cal—in place for the next five years.

The committee, led by Co-Chairs Mo Nishida and Charles Igawa, comprised only 10 people, but the group brought together a panel of speakers, including local doctors and one family member of a resident. Doctors Takeshi Matsumoto, Ronald Shigematsu, and Kenji Irie, along with Dr. Sumi Kawaratani, who sat in the audience, all together care for at least two-thirds of Keiro’s residents.

“I have difficulty being critical of the CEO and the board because these are good people,” said Dr. Matsumoto, who came to the meeting wearing scrubs, “and they’ve probably done more for the community than all of us put together, each one of them. But I have to speak for my patients. Most of them feel very abandoned by all of this. They’re anxious, they’re depressed, they don’t know what to do, and they’ve just totally lost trust in this institution they thought they trusted.”

The physicians and fellow panelist, psychologist Keiko Ikeda, raised specific questions about the sale from a healthcare industry perspective, questions like: Why was the retirement home sold when it functions like an apartment and therefore isn’t affected by the Affordable Care Act? Why not hire a consultation firm to help manage the nursing home? And will Pacifica continue to honor Medicare and Medi-Cal after the five-year conditional period ends?

According to Dr. Ikeda, the full price for one month in one of the two nursing homes is between $6,450 and $11,700. If Pacifica chooses not to honor Medicare and Medi-Cal, the facilities will become prohibitively expensive for residents.

Doctors Matsumoto and Shigematsu both said that the entire healthcare industry has been impacted by the Affordable Care Act and must adapt to its new conditions. The new policy alone is not reason enough to sell, they argued.

Community members spoke mostly about their concern for current and future residents and their frustration at not being able to get through to administrators at Keiro, whom they wished would hold an open forum of their own.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” Helen Funai Erickson told The Rafu Shimpo after the meeting. Erickson volunteers at Keiro, where her mother was once a resident. “The board are wealthy people, they’ve donated millions of dollars to our community over the years, they’re good-hearted people, and yet they won’t meet with us. Does that make sense?”

Because Keiro is a nonprofit dependent on donations, many in the room felt that it should be more receptive to community wishes. Dr. Irie received applause from the crowd when he said about the sale, “That choice should have been made by the community, not the board.”

Although the Ad Hoc Committee is coming together late in the game — when the sale has already been approved by the attorney general, and the buyer and operators have agreed to conditions — its members hold out hope that the sale can still be stopped before escrow closes early next year. The group has begun circulating a petition, which it will collect on Oct. 15.

Chair of the Keiro Board of Directors Gary Kawaguchi attended the meeting, choosing a seat close to the back of the room without announcing his presence. Even as discussion of the board grew heated, he listened quietly and took notes.

Toward the end of the audience question-and-answer session, former Assemblymember Warren Furutani approached the microphone to give his perspective. The Japanese American community is changing all across the country, he said, and those changes have affected other senior homes, like Seattle Keiro (no relation to Keiro in Los Angeles) and Kimochi in San Francisco. Both of those homes have reacted by becoming more pan-Asian American.

With tension in the room somewhat defused after Furutani’s comment, Kawaguchi came forward to introduce himself and give a statement of his own. “I’m not going to be here to answer your questions because if I start, I think we’ll be here all night,” he said. “I listened to the questions that you’ve had, and we’ll try to answer that in one way or another.” When he suggested looking for facts on the Keiro website, one audience member booed.

“Gary,” said Furutani, “I think it would really help tonight — and I know you can’t make promises for the whole board — but I think one clear message is people want to have a meeting with the board. I just think the conversation would de-escalate all these problems, and if you don’t do that, it’s going to get worse.”

By the end of the night, the Ad Hoc Committee to Save Keiro had more than doubled in size, reaching 25 members. Although Keiro said in an interview with The Rafu Shimpo that Pacifica, Aspen, and Northstar’s approval of the attorney general’s conditions meant the sale was final, the committee has its eye on the close of escrow, still at least three months away.

“Don’t lose hope,” said audience member Tom Okabe, a real estate broker. “I don’t want to overstep my bounds, but any escrow can be stopped until the money is transferred, the contracts are signed, and the deed is given over. We’ve still got time.”

This is an ongoing story. More articles about Keiro’s sale to come.

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