Speaking at a memorial service for Kei-Ai residents were Rimban William Briones of Nishi Hongwanji, Rev. Allison Mark of Faith United Methodist Church, and Father Tom Carey of Church of the Epiphany. (Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

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 contracted and died of COVID-19 at the facility.

The rally, in which most participants drove by and listened to the speeches on their phones, was a continuation of a protest held the week before outside the Sakura Gardens (formerly Keiro) Intermediate Care Facility in Boyle Heights. SOS and other organizations are opposed to Pacifica Companies’ plan to turn the ICF into multi-family, market-rate housing and move the current residents to another facility.

“We are here today to honor and remember the 113 seniors who died here at Kei-Ai Los Angeles from COVID and we want a stop to this,” Hana Kawano of SOS said as some of the drivers added flowers to a wreath set up on the Lincoln Park Avenue median.

Actor and activist Tamlyn Tomita said, “The issue of Pacifica and its treatment of its properties, the Kei-Ai Los Angeles, Kei-Ai South Bay (in Gardena), and Sakura Gardens ICF and SNF (Skilled Nursing Facility) are an issue that affects us all … Our baachans, our jiichsns, our abuelos, our abuelitas … These are issues that speak to all of us.

“As we care for our senior citizens who are entering the golden years … Pacifica needs to be held accountable for its non-compliance in the last five years (with conditions) that were stipulated by then attorney general and now our vice president Kamala Harris to maintain the … bicultural and bilingual care of its senior citizens.

Actor-activist Tamlyn Tomita

“At the Kei-Ai/Sakura Gardens facilities they have failed to do so in the name of green, in the name of pushing out our residents at Sakura Gardens toward the Kei-Ai facilities, where they’re noticing the highest level of COVID-19 infections and deaths in the county.

“I thank Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi for his introduction of AB 279. I thank Kamala Harris for her foresight five years ago in order to ask Pacifica to follow the stipulations. I ask current California attorney general and nominee for health and human services. secretary under the Biden Administration, Xavier Becerra … Rep. Jimmy Gomez … L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis … Maria Elena Durazo, California state senator … Assemblywoman Wendy Carillo … the mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti … and I ask that the L.A. County Department of Public Health look at the treatment of Pacifica facilities and know that they are subject to laws.

“They are subject to compliance. They’re not allowed to evict the residents during this epidemic. They should not enter more COVID-19 patients without notifying the residents and the families. They should not diminish the kind of care that the residents have been used to … We are here to ask, to demand that Pacifica stop its greed, to hear the grievances.”

David Monkawa of SOS compared the situation to the wave of anti-Asian violence that has been sweeping the country. “That 84-year-old Thai man, Mr. Vicha Ratanapakdee, he gets beaten viciously and knocked on the ground (in San Francisco in January) … I don’t care what nationality they are. If you’re like a street hoodlum kicking and hurting and eventually killing old people, you gotta be put away.

“But what about when corporations do something like that? … Let’s take a look at the results. So you have this one gentleman who died. He was 84 … Victim of violence. Who knows what the perpetrator thought? Most likely that old people, they’re not going to fight back. And then on top of that … Asians don’t fight back. So maybe that’s what he thought, who knows? …

Drivers placed flowers on a wreath in front of the Kei-Ai nursing home in Lincoln Heights in memory of residents who have died of COVID-19.

“What’s in Pacifica’s mind? Now these people are not fools. They know about gerontology. They know about old folks. So they know that when you move old folks … they don’t do too good … So we know that Pacifica knows that the consequences of their actions would be very unfortunate. Yet, they’re going to do it anyway. That’s what makes it so insidious … What happens if over 60 people that are in the ICF right now … what if a third of them were to not make it? Then what then is the difference between street criminals and Pacifica in terms of the actual results?”

Monkawa offered an explanation for why Kei-Ai became a COVID facility: “From the best of our research, each COVID patient is bringing in something like $635 a day … Compare that with a Medi-Cal poor person. They only reimburse $200.”

The residents who are being impacted, Monkawa said, are “folks in their 90s and 100s. These are folks who are wives of gardeners, and gardeners who helped rebuild the Japanese American economy after World War II. These are the wives and produce men who worked at the flower market and all these other places who helped California become an agricultural giant … These are all the people that they’re trying to eliminate. And yes, some even were in concentration camps in 1942.”

Monkawa took issue with descriptions of bilingual, bicultural care as “amenities.” “Since when is language an amenity? … These are lifelines for our people.”

“We’re going to continue to fight and we want definite commitments from Pacifica … that there ain’t going to be no evictions. no transfers … in the middle of this pandemic period,” Monkawa said. “We don’t want you to transfer people in ICF to this building right over here … 113 people have died between here and South Bay Kei-Ai, the absolute worst and deadliest facilities in all of California …

“We want complete transparency for all the families … no double-talk. And we call on the county to investigate Pacifica … There’s no way they should have got COVID designation. It should be revoked.”

There was a prerecorded performance on shakuhachi by George Abe and a live performance by Maceo Hernandez and Fredo Ortiz of East L.A. Taiko.

Remembering COVID Victims

Rinban William Briones of Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo, taking part in an interfaith memorial service for residents who have died of COVID, said, “This past Monday, the United States hit a staggering milestone. As you all know, the known coronavirus-related deaths surpassed 500,000. And as of yesterday in Los Angeles County only, there were 806 deaths recorded during that winter surge, bringing California’s overall COVID-19 death toll to 50,890 …

“The vaccine distribution has gradually picked up. Unfortunately, this brings little comfort to those who have lost loved ones, probably needlessly. Today, we are gathered here to reflect on the 96 patients that passed away here at Lincoln Heights Kei-Ai and the 17 patients that have passed away at Kei-Ai South Bay … If you’re like any families who have lost a loved one during this pandemic and at a hospital healthcare facility or a nursing home, you know the loneliness and helplessness continues to overwhelm your hearts and minds.

“Unfortunately, there is no set timetable to tell us when to get on with your lives, nor a period of time that our lives are no longer void and empty. And it brings a great sadness that many who passed away here have not had a proper service. Many families have not had an opportunity to find closure … Our loved ones are no longer here to visit, to talk to, and share laughs or tears with.

Members of East L.A. Taiko

“But … you have not been abandoned and left alone. It only means that we must awaken to the minds and hearts that transcend time and space so that we may continue to experience an embrace of our loved ones … It means becoming aware of those whose lives were taken away by the virus that are continuing to influence us. They have now become part of this dynamic oneness that we can appreciate as a caring force or energy that we experience daily … This realization of truth moves us forward to the future, knowing that thoughts, words, and deeds of your loved ones continue to embrace us.”

Rev. Allison Mark, senior pastor of Faith United Methodist Church in Torrance, said, “As we gather to lift up the 113 lives of loved ones lost to COVID in the Kei-Ai and Sakura Gardens facilities … we wish to offer comfort to the families of those who have passed in the last year after having contracted the coronavirus … In the last year, under the safer-at-home lockdown mandates of pandemic, I … have officiated countless memorials for our seniors in our church and our community.

“This COVID pandemic that we have been living through these last 11 months … has complicated everyone’s lives, with not one soul untouched. Complicated down to the very way we are able to offer care and comfort to our bereaved. How much easier would it be to just say … that **Ojii-san** or **Obaa-san** lived a good long life, but how much more difficult has it been to say that our beloved have died from COVID contracted in the care homes that they were residing, that were meant to receive iyashi care treatment or recovery or rehabilitation or living out the last years of their life?

“In my own congregation, family members have lost parents and grandparents in their 90s and 100s to COVID during their residence at Kei-Ai facilities, both here and in Gardena … We also remember the living, the 68 residents at Sakura Gardens who are at risk of being evicted and transferred into two of … Pacifica Companies’ highest infection-rated care homes, endangering and risking the lives of those who we should be lifting up and revering as our elders …

“We gather as people of faith, interfaith denominations coming together to recognize the humanity and dignity of all life … I, as a Christian, standing with other faiths, call on Pacifica to have a higher standard of living and care for our seniors. For Christians, this is the season of Lent, a call to repent and change our ways. Pacifica, it is not too late to repent for the sake of our elders.”

Father Tom Carey of Church of the Epiphany in Lincoln Heights said, “I’m here today as a resident of Lincoln Heights, a place where I have worked these last 10 years, a place where I have lived, a place that I know as a beautiful, heavenly mixture of cultures and peoples, and among those peoples are elderly in this building behind us…

“My grandmother lived to be 92. She was the keeper of the story of our family and she passed those stories on so that we know where we came from and who we came from … Our elderly are the keepers of those stories … It is an outrage that Pacifica is not only not taking care of our elderly, not complying with basic COVID regimes, but they’re also putting profit in front of the story of our people …

“The great sin that we have to confront in this country right now in the season of Lent is if we put profit in front of humanity, we put profit in front of people, and it’s got to stop from the top to the bottom … Pacifica has a responsibility towards the well-being of the people who live in its facilities … Companies have a responsibility for the well-being of our society … So we call upon this company, Pacifica, but every company … in the name of God to put people ahead of profit.”

To be continued

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