By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

Second of two parts.

The Save Our Seniors Network held a rally Feb. 25 outside the Kei-Ai Senior Healthcare Center (formerly Keiro Nursing Home) in Lincoln Heights to draw attention to the number of seniors who have died of COVID-19 at the facility and to protest Pacifica’s plan to close the Sakura Gardens Intermediate Care Facility in Boyle Heights.

Francine Imai

Francine Imai, one of the representatives of residents’ families, said, “I will be speaking on behalf of the Kitagawa family, as well as my concern for my mother as she is a resident of Sakura ICF. April Kitagawa, who was also my second mother, was a resident here at Kei-Ai L.A. She recently passed on Nov. 21, 2020. She was 95 … Although she passed peacefully, there are still very big concerns …

“Pacifica did not inform the families of Kei-Ai that they were a COVID-designated facility … She was very susceptible to being infected as her immune system was much weaker than a younger person. Why would any owner put the lives of the residents in jeopardy? They may have received more compensation for each COVID resident, but is it really worth risking the lives of others? … Our elderly helped build our country and certainly do not deserve to be treated as second-class citizens …

“Ke-Ai, formerly Keiro, was one was the most loved pillars of the community. Pacifica has now ruined their reputation by making it one of the worst nursing facilities in the nation … 79% of the residents contracted the virus at Kei-Ai L.A. and 93% were infected at the South Bay facility … The death rate at the L.A. facility is 40%, and South Bay, 20%. Please help us stop Pacifica’s greed and allow our elderly to live out their life …

“About the concerns I have about my mother’s well-being, she resides at Sakura ICF, whose residents are 100% COVID-free … Kei-Ai is willing to coordinate a special area for the ICF residents so they can be in the same cohort area. (But) why would any ICF family member want their loved one to be in a facility with such a high death rate?

“We expect our loved ones to be safe in a facility with the same outstanding services they are being given under the leadership of Beverly Ito. Please do not allow ICF to be demolished and allow our seniors to stay in their home.”

Katie Horie Addison

Karie Horie Addison shared her family’s experiences. “My mother worked as a nurse’s aide for 15 years into the year 2000 at the South Bay Keiro Nursing Home after retirement until 2018. She volunteered every Friday at that facility, now known as the South Bay Kei-Ai nursing home. I moved my parents to Sakura Gardens in April 2019. My mom transitioned to the Sakura Memory Care Unit in August 2019 …

“My father had some medical issues and was transferred to the Kei-Ai nursing home in Lincoln Heights. My father recovered and was able to transfer to Sakura ICF in November 2019 … So we have had experience with all of the facilities within the Keiro system after the transition from Keiro to Pacifica … My mom told me that residents of South Bay Kei-Ai looked forward to the volunteers visiting so that there would be Japanese-speaking people to converse with, because there were less Japanese-speaking staff.

“Before I signed the agreement with Sakura Gardens, I specifically asked if there was any truth in the rumors that the former Keiro facilities would be closed at the end of the five-year conditional period. I was told that Pacifica would be committed to maintaining the Japanese culturally sensitive facilities as long as there were Japanese and Japanese American residents …

“During my mom’s short stay at Sakura Memory Care, there was a lot of staff turnover and very few Japanese-speaking staff. The only Japanese cultural connection was meals and the other residents. She had dementia and had difficulty communicating with non-Japanese-speaking staff, especially toward the end of her life. I felt that Pacifica was neither sensitive nor committed to providing Japanese-speaking and Japanese culturally aware staff. I was told that there were no qualified Japanese or Japanese-speaking candidates for the level of pay they were offering.

“My 93-year-old father has been a resident at Sakura ICF for over a year. Due to … the Japanese cultural community and atmosphere, the Japanese-speaking staff and Japanese meals, he is able to live comfortably … Because of the COVID pandemic, I have not been able to visit my father at Sakura ICF on a regular basis, but because of Beverly Ito’s excellent management and the entire staff’s caring service … I have comfort that my father is well taken care of …

“The facility has been COVID-free and all the residents have received the vaccination. I have not received any notification or assistance from Pacifica regarding the status of Sakura ICF. It has been suggested that the residents of Sakura ICF would be transferred to another Pacifica facility … I do not wish to transfer my dad from Sakura ICF, a COVID-free facility, to either of the Kei-Ai facilities, where COVID infection and death are rampant.

“We are asking for transparency from Pacifica … No notification was sent to the families of the residents of Sakura ICF regarding the submission of plans to the City of Los Angeles in August 2020 to convert Sakura ICF into multi-family residences. No notification was sent to the families of the residents of the Kei-Ai Los Angeles and Kei-Ai South Bay facilities about becoming COVID-designated facilities, which exposed the current residents to COVID patients transferred from local hospitals.”

Margaret Miyauchi-Leong

Margaret Miyauchi-Leong recalled, “My dad was a resident at Sakura ICF but in May 2020, due to circumstances beyond my family’s control, he needed to be moved to another facility. We were concerned about the COVID cases at Kei-Ai, but were assured that he and the staff that care for him will not have contact with the COVID residents. We didn’t have a choice but to move him there because there are no other facilities that can care for him in Japanese. We wanted him to be able to enjoy Japanese food and culture to live out his twilight years.

“When I moved Dad to Kei-Ai, I was only allowed to enter the lobby. Only staff and residents were allowed to go beyond the lobby. They assured me that they would help Dad get settled into his room. I understand the safety of the residents and the staff are top priority under these challenging times, but no one outside the facility now is able to check on the well-being of the residents …

“Dec. 4 … I received a call from a staff member telling me that Dad tested positive for COVID and he was going to be moved to the COVID floor … Three hours later, they called to tell me the (second) test was negative. They were going to move him to an area with sick patients when he didn’t even have COVID. They agreed to take another test to be sent out to the lab. In the meantime, they would keep him quarantined.”

Miyauchi-Leong said she tried to reach the administrator but never heard back from him. She was told by a staff member that the most recent test came back positive. “This time they wouldn’t move Dad from his room. I called the following morning to see how he’s doing and the staff told me he was asymptomatic and … in the day room eating his breakfast … I was dumbfounded. Dad’s not in isolation. If he’s out in the day room eating breakfast, he’s wandering the halls and infecting whoever else that doesn’t have COVID. This told me there’s no safety protocol within Kei-Ai …

She added, “My family was blessed that Dad was asymptomatic and has since recovered. He’s 93 years old. But what about the 96 residents that have died from COVID due to the negligence from Kei-Ai L.A.? … I believe the residents and staff were not provided the proper protection from COVID. No one should be admitted into Kei-Ai with this horrible track record … It’s almost a death sentence. If sent here, our immediate concern is all our loved ones.

“They have lived lives of hardship, some put in concentration camps during World War II. They have built the foundation of what this community is today. At the very least, they deserve to have the proper care and attention they need, to live out the rest of their lives stress-free in both comfort and happiness.”

Miyauchi-Leong called on county and state officials “to slow down the COVID death rates at senior living facilities. But especially here at Kei-Ai L.A. and Kei-Ai South Bay, please make Pacifica … accountable for the deaths of nearly 100 loved ones. Don’t allow Pacifica to evict the residents of Sakura ICF … and transfer them to this death trap.”

The program also included statements from Dr. Takeshi Matsumoto of Koreisha Senior Care & Advocacy (speaking as an individual), Mark Masaoka of Nikkei Progressives and Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress, Miya Iwataki of Little Tokyo Historical Society, Phyllis Chiu of Chinatown Community for Equitable Development, Carlos Montes of Centro Community Service Organization of Boyle Heights, and Maureen Cruise, RN, director of Health Care for All-Los Angeles.

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