Speakers at a Save Our Seniors press conference held outside Sakura ICF in February included Los Angeles City Councilmember Kevin de Leon (left) and Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (right). (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

A plan submitted by Pacifica Companies to the California Department of Public Health to allow for the transfer of residents from Sakura Intermediate Care Facility in Boyle Heights has been rejected, pending further amendments recommended by public health authorities.

The report, titled “Transition Plan,” was submitted on March 29 by Beverly Ito, Sakura Gardens administrator, on behalf of its owners, Pacifica Companies, with a proposed effective date of June 30, 2021.

In an April 19 letter to Ito, Zosima Carina Gaerlan of the Health Facilities Inspection Division of the L.A. County Department of Public Health stated: “The facility may not issue a transfer notice to residents and/or their responsible parties until an acceptable Transition Plan is received and approved by LAC HFID and CDPH (California Department of Public Health).”

Gaerlan said that a review of the Transition Plan show that it does not include information on the number of residents who do not have a legal representative and do not have capacity to make decisions for themselves, or the reason for closure.

Pacifica has the opportunity to resubmit its transition plans. A separate letter from Cassie Dunham, acting deputy director, Center for Health Care Quality, said that transition plans must also have measures to ensure the safety of residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Given the danger that Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) may pose to transferred residents, transition plans submitted during the COVID-19 pandemic must also include the measures that the facility will take to mitigate COVID-19 infection risk associated with resident transfers. The facility must also arrange appropriate future medical care and services for each resident, unless the resident or resident’s representative has already made these arrangements,” Dunham states.

Opponents to the closure of Sakura ICF welcomed news of the rejection.

“We should expect that Pacifica will re-apply again and again,” stated Yoko Takahashi,Legislative, Legal, Research Team director for Save Our Seniors. “Most likely, they want to kick out the seniors by June 30 to avoid the possibility that Assembly Bill 279 might pass in July. This rejection gives the families and our communities more time to fight.”

A hearing was held for AB 279 on April 13 in the Assembly Health Committee. By a majority vote, the legislation sponsored by  Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) advanced to the Appropriations Committee.

This bill would prohibit a senior residential care facility from making significant changes to the delivery of residential care services during the COVID-19 state of emergency unless the owner of the facility declares bankruptcy.

Significant changes would include the termination of services as well as the transfer of residents to other facilities unless the resident consents to the termination or transfer.

The Sakura ICF Family Council, led by Francine Imai and Karie Horie, initiated a letter-writing campaign urging rejection of the plan to shut down the facility and replace it with multi-family, market-rate housing. Advocates for the residents point out that moving them to Kei-Ai Los Angeles Healthcare Center, also owned by Pacifica, would be dangerous since the ICF has been COVID-free but Kei-Ai has had several infections and deaths.

SOS has scheduled a demonstration outside Sakura ICF, 325 S. Boyle Ave., for Saturday, May 1, at 2 p.m., led by resident’s families. The theme is “Stop the evictions of seniors during the pandemic. We deserve adequate relocation facilities” and “Stop the deaths of Japanese at Kei-Ai L.A.”

Japanese American community clergy, doctors, elected officials and supporters from Boyle Heights will be joined by East L.A. Taiko and other performers.

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