During a rally in February outside Kei-Ai Los Angeles Healthcare Center in Lincoln Heights, Save Our Seniors protested the high number of fatalities at the nursing home due to COVID-19 as well as a proposal to move seniors to Kei-Ai from Sakura ICF, which has been COVID-free. (Nikkei Progressives)

On May 18, Pacifica Senior Living announced that Sakura Gardens Intermediate Care Facility will close on July 20.

The announcement followed the approval that day of an amended closure plan submitted to the California Department of Public Health.

In April, CDPH rejected plans to close the facility, advising Pacifica to make recommended amendments.

In a press release, Pacifica stated the reason for closure of the facility is “due to continued operating losses year over year.”

“Pacifica Senior Living’s Sakura Gardens Assisted Living Community will remain open. This community features a new Alzheimer’s Memory Care unit and is culturally sensitive to its Japanese American residents with Japanese gardens and koi ponds, Japanese cuisine prepared by an executive chef, and Japanese cultural activities,” Pacifica said.

“Sakura Gardens Assisted Living Community is an award-winning community named one of Caring.com’s Caring Stars for 2021 and the Senior Advisor 2021 Best of Senior Living award. This community is one of the designated communities that would meet the care needs of the current Sakura Intermediate Care Facility residents.

“Pacifica Senior Living and the Sakura Gardens Intermediate Care Facility staff are doing everything they can to help residents and their families make informed decisions. Pacifica Senior Living has developed this approved plan to partner with residents, family members, facilities and the community to ensure the availability of necessary services and safe care options to meet the needs of the Sakura Gardens Intermediate Care Facility seniors.”

Located in Boyle Heights, Sakura ICF was operated by Keiro until it was sold to Pacifica along with Keiro Retirement Home, Keiro Nursing Home in Lincoln Heights and Keiro Nursing Home in Gardena. Under conditions of sale imposed by the California Attorney General’s Office, Pacifica was required to maintain culturally sensitive care at the facilities for a five-year period, which expired in February.

In an email to family members on May 19, Beverly Ito, administrator of Sakura ICF, said an official 60-day written notice of closure was being issued.

“We will host a community meeting, before the end of May, for our residents, families, and responsible agents to review the Transition Plan processes that will support safe transitions in care for each resident. Meeting details will be provided soon,” Ito stated.

“We are all experiencing a myriad of emotions regarding this announcement and the impact, both personally and collectively, on our residents, family members, our Sakura ICF team, and our community. We will continue to work with you to meet the best interests and needs of your loved ones during this difficult time.”

Loretta Hultman, whose mother resides at Sakura Gardens, praised the staff at Sakura Gardens. A member of the Sakura ICF Family Residents Council, she noted that there are currently 39 residents living at the ICF.

“My mom will be fine, I hope. My brother and I have been searching for a new home for her. Sakura ICF has been her home for 14 wonderful years. The staff at Sakura ICF saved the lives of all the residents; they saved them from COVID-19,” Hultman said. “There are so many other residents who are Medi-Cal and who have very limited options. Many are hoping to move into Sakura Gardens. They are waiting for a Medi-Cal waiver to be approved.

“There are some residents who have no family to advocate for them, to help them find a new home, and to help them acclimate to their new home. This is such a sad situation for all of our elders, who deserve better.”

Days before Pacifica’s announcement, the State Assembly passed AB 279, which would temporarily halt nursing home evictions and involuntary transfers unless medically necessary during California’s COVID-19 state of emergency period. The bill is now with the Senate Rules Committee.

Assemblymember Al Muratschi (D-Torrance), who co-authored the bill with Assemblymember Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles), said, “I am deeply disappointed (by) such a cold-hearted announcement to essentially evict residents in the middle of a pandemic. I’m going to continue to fight to stop this. I’ve been communicating with Attorney General Rob Bonta, and I will continue to push our bill and any and all other means that we may have to prevent our seniors from being evicted from Sakura Gardens.”

Pacifica’s plans to close the ICF and build market-rate housing on the site has been opposed by Save Our Seniors and other community-based organizations as well as the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council. SOS issued the following response to the latest news:

“May 18, 2021, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) failed to require a facility closure plan to identify accessible, culturally and linguistically competent alternate facilities for underserved, limited-income, ethnic seniors. The CDPH approved Pacifica Companies’ plan to close Sakura Intermediate Care Facility (ICF). Notice of the plan to close the facility by July 20 was emailed to the families by 10:00 the next morning.

“ICF families have the organized backing of SOS, CANHR (California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform), PANA (Progressive Asian Network for Action), AAAJ (Asian Americans Advancing Justice), Assemblyman (Miguel) Santiago, Assemblyman (Al) Muratsuchi, Councilman (Kevin) de Leon, JACL chapters, OCBC (Orange County Buddhist Church) and many others to stand together and keep fighting!

“On behalf of our seniors, we demand:
“Pacifica identify alternative facilities which meet the bilingual, bicultural needs, accept Medi-Cal, and must maintain the same level of care as Sakura ICF.
“Pacifica address the joint statement of 10 personal physicians of ICF residents who warned the health of the seniors would be jeopardized by involuntary transfers during the pandemic.
“Pacifica remove Kei-Ai Los Angeles from its list of alternate facilities because the 105 COVID-19 deaths represent the worst of any facility west of the Mississippi.
“SOS and the community are working hard to advance the following initiatives:
“Appeal the 60-Day Eviction Notices. Pacifica has been telling residents that evictions are ‘inevitable’ and that they should not ‘miss out’ on securing beds at other facilities. Families should not be pressured to move their elders during the pandemic.
“Sakura Gardens Assisted Living – Medi-Cal Assisted Living Waiver Status. The adjacent assisted living facility on the same 325 S. Boyle Ave. campus could be a viable alternate facility. SOS Network proposes that Pacifica accommodate qualifying ICF residents and that they complete the waiver application process for the facility and individual residents.
“AB 279 has advanced to the State Senate on a timeline to be signed as early as mid-July. AB 279 halts evictions and transfers until the official end of the COVID-19 emergency and adds advance notice protections for 12 months thereafter.
“SOS has requested a meeting with AG Rob Bonta to extend Conditions of Sale to continue operation of Sakura ICF and the other three former Keiro facilities as high-quality Japanese and Japanese American culturally sensitive facilities.”

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