By JUDD MATSUNAGA, Esq.

I was shocked, SHOCKED!!! The most deadly nursing home in the state was Kei-Ai Los Angeles, according to an L.A. Times article dated March 1, 2021. At least 97 COVID deaths overall have been recorded, making it the most deadly nursing home in the state, according to data compiled by The Times.

How could that happen? Where was the Community Advisory Board? The following may be a pretty cynical point of view, but it’s as valid an explanation as any. Quite simply, “for-profit.” Pacifica wanted many of Kei-Ai’s long-term residents out. Why? Because most of them were on Medi-Cal, which pays much lower reimbursement rates than Medicare or private pay.

“Say Judd, are you saying Pacifica wanted the elderly Kei-Ai residents to die?” Not exactly – but it fits. At first, the county restricted hospital transfers of COVID-19 patients to nursing homes to protect elderly patients. But hospitals needed to free up space for anticipated surges in infections and asked county officials for help.

In April, officials decided to prepare a group of skilled nursing facilities to back-up hospitals to relieve overtaxed hospitals and their exhausted staff. Kei-Ai volunteered their residents for the increased viral risk!!! Kei-Ai Los Angeles was one of 27 nursing homes participating in a little-publicized county program that allows nursing facilities to volunteer to receive COVID patients from hospitals and other nursing facilities.

Patients and doctors say they were never informed or consulted about Kei-Ai’s participation in the program. Tracy Imamura, who sits on a Community Advisory Board that was supposed to be watching Pacifica’s operations for five years, said that the facility never notified the CAB that it was seeking this status. Imamura told The L.A. Times, “The board would have recommended against that.”

Dr. Takeshi Matsumoto, who has seen thousands of patients at Kei-Ai Los Angeles over the years, said none of his 15 patients or their families were aware. Other doctors and patients’ families that I spoke to also said they were unaware. “They should have informed the families so they could take precautions and give them an option to move out. I feel responsible too,” Matsumoto said.

Dr. Matsumoto began 2020 with 15 patients at Kei-Ai Los Angeles. Most of them have contracted COVID-19, and five have died. “Why would you volunteer to be a COVID-designated facility knowing that you’re going to be endangering the current residents there?” Matsumoto continued. “I don’t get that at all.” (Source: L.A. Times, March 1, 2021)

To make matters worse, on May 18, Pacifica Senior Living announced that Sakura Gardens Intermediate Care Facility will close on July 20. Despite efforts by Save Our Seniors and other groups, the announcement followed the approval that day of an amended closure plan submitted to the California Department of Public Health, according to LAist.com (May 20, 2021).

This means that residents of the intermediate care facility tagged for closure by Pacifica Cos. will have to transfer elsewhere by July 20, according to an email sent to their families on Wednesday. Loretta Hultman and her siblings are now searching for a new home for their 95-year-old mother, who has lived at the facility for 14 years. “Having the elderly move out and not knowing if it’s safe or not is just inhumane,” Hultman said.

“When you’re young, you can advocate for yourself, but these are all people that are 90, 100 years old and depend on the kindness of others,” said Hultman. She said she’s reluctant to take her mother from her long-time home and community of friends and staff. But she is worried about a stay to the “bitter end” as she hears about staff layoffs at the facility.

To put it mildly, the Japanese American community is pretty upset with Keiro for abandoning it’s seniors. Never before, in my lifetime, have I seen the community so incensed. Five years ago, people were showing up to public hearings on the Keiro sale wearing armbands – reminiscent of the war days.

Now, 97 seniors died at Kei-Ai during the pandemic, most of whom died alone since families were not allowed to visit. Many families lost their loved ones to COVID-19 this past year and never had an opportunity to say their goodbyes. Keiro has an opportunity to make amends. They have the resources to really make a difference to strengthen and unify the Japanese American community.

To try to appease the community, Gene S. Kanamori, president and CEO of Keiro, announced in an April 6, 2021 press release that “Keiro is awarding a total of nearly $248,000 in funds to support 32 nonprofit organizations in reducing social isolation with a focus on outreach to Japanese American and Japanese older adults and caregivers in Southern California.” Nice gesture, but THAT’S NOT ENOUGH!!!

In 2016, Keiro sold its four properties, i.e., Keiro Nursing Home, South Bay Keiro Nursing Home, Keiro Intermediate Care Facility, and Keiro Retirement Home, to Pacifica for $41 million.
Prior to public announcement of the sale, then president and CEO Shawn Miyake told me in his private office that Keiro will be able to serve the Japanese American community with money from the interest alone for perpetuity.

Now, a 2.5% return on $41 million is $1.025 million in interest a year. If they make a 5% return, that’s $2.05 million in interest a year. Why is Keiro only awarding $248,000 to the Japanese American community??? Better question – what good is making $1 million to $2 million a year in perpetuity to serve a community that may not be there in the not too distant future???

Why did Keiro only grant $248,000 when they’re making at least $1 million a year in interest alone? As I have said in previous articles, if The Rafu Shimpo goes out of business, there won’t be a Japanese American community as we know it in one or two decades. What good is Keiro’s $41 million to the community then? Who are they going to support? Another Rafu columnist said it better than I ever could:

The Rafu is still the place where most of its subscribers can find out what is happening in the broader community. Reportage on the status of the many efforts to honor our 100th/442nd warriors. Social service programs, resources and informational forums. Cultural holiday celebrations, events, performances. Issues, legislators and legislation impacting our community. Sports coverage, recreational opportunities. Obituaries. Saving The Rafu is literally a matter of life and death. We are a dispersed community. The Rafu gives us a voice, brings us together. I have been contacted by and connected with old friends and acquaintances through articles in The Rafu. I have read about accomplishments of people, and have learned of the passing of old friends. The survival of Rafu Shimpo is important and it is personal. – Miya Iwataki, Rafu.com, April 14, 2016.

I’ve looked at the list of the 32 nonprofit organizations that were listed on Gene S. Kanamori’s April 6, 2021 press release. As you might expect, The Rafu Shimpo wasn’t on it. Why? You say, “That’s because The Rafu is not a nonprofit.” So what? Keiro can still support The Rafu. And even if there is some valid reason that I am unaware of, there are ways around that.

For example, I heard of one Sansei man here in Los Angeles. When he heard that The Rafu was having financial difficulty, wanted to donate to The Rafu Shimpo. However, his CPA said that his donation would not be tax-deductible since The Rafu Shimpo was not a nonprofit 501(c)(3). So he called the executive director of another Japanese American nonprofit he wanted to support.

He said, “I want to make a gift to your organization. But I have one condition. I want you to take a percentage of my gift and buy Rafu Shimpo subscriptions for your members.” The nonprofit organization was happy to accept the gift and bought the subscriptions. Two Japanese American organizations benefitted from one gift and the donor got his tax deduction. By the way, that Sansei’s name is Judd Matsunaga.

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Judd Matsunaga, Esq., is the founding partner of the Law Offices of Matsunaga & Associates, specializing in estate/Medi-Cal planning, probate, personal injury and real estate law. With offices in Torrance, Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, Pasadena and Fountain Valley, he can be reached at (800) 411-0546. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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