By JOHN KANAI
“Lately, I spend each day feeling anxious over talks of eviction and the residents having to move out of Keiro. My mind is full of worries about how I can do this financially. I cannot even visit places that I may be sent to.
“I worry because I can only go to a place that can take Medi-Cal. I want to return to the Retirement Home, now called Sakura Gardens. For me, this is where I came from, my old nest. But with my current financial situation, it is not possible for me to go back there. In April, I will be 91 years old. God, please help us seniors.”
This was written in Japanese by an anonymous resident of Sakura Intermediate Care Facility (ICF). She was soon to be 91 years old and her writing expressed the sadness and grief of the situation. In order to comprehend her letter, there is need to explain some points.
Many individuals in the community, including the writer of this letter, still identify the four senior facilities as belonging to “Keiro” The name “Keiro” remains, but since the sale of the facilities in February 2016, Keiro has entirely relinquished the facility-based care of seniors.
After half a century of service, the Nikkei senior facilities that were the treasures of the community and were built by our forefathers, such as Fred Wada and George Aratani, shut its doors. On that day in February, Keiro also abandoned the 600 residents who thought they had a secure home until the end of life. The Nikkei community also lost facilities that “respected our elders,” which is the very meaning of the word “Keiro.”
The California attorney general imposed 13 conditions on the sale between the nonprofit Keiro and the for-profit Pacifica Companies. These conditions, which included culturally sensitive Japanese services, were to last for five years. The five-year period expired on Feb. 5, 2021 and now neither the seller nor the buyer is bound by the conditions.
Knowing this timeline, Pacifica filed with the City of Los Angeles to close Sakura ICF and convert it into a multi-family apartment complex. This filing was met by strong opposition from the Nikkei community and the surrounding Boyle Heights community. On Feb. 26, the ICF director, Beverly Ito, sent a letter to the residents, families and staff, notifying them of Pacifica’s intent to cease operation of the facility. Pacifica began the transfer considerations of the residents on March 1. It was stated that they would take into account various factors in finding a placement for each resident. No closing date was announced.
Furthermore, the notice mentioned a number of placement destinations that included Kei-Ai Los Angeles, Kei-Ai South Bay, and other assisted living facilities.
The writer of the letter stated that she wanted to return to where she came from but since its sale in 2016, the Retirement Home became an assisted living facility called Sakura Gardens, which does not accept government insurances such as Medicare or Medi-Cal. According to a Koreisha Senior Care & Advocacy survey, those who reside at an assisted living facility paid in average $5,700 per month out-of-pocket. On the other hand, a resident at Sakura ICF on Medi-Cal paid $1,609.
To cover her portion of the cost, the resident used her Social Security payment and the deceased spouse’s pension money. This arrangement left her with $38 each month.
No matter how many assisted living places Pacifica recommends, it is not a realistic option for these elderly individuals who rely on Medi-Cal to cover the cost of their facility-based care.
Many members of the community are now aware of the risky situation at both Kei-Ai L.A. and Kei-Ai South Bay due to rampant COVID-19 infections and deaths. As described in a March 1, 2021 L.A. Times article, “How did a home built for Japanese Americans become the state’s deadliest nursing facility?,” the numbers of residents and staff who have suffered from the virus are staggering.
Based on the L.A. Times posting of March 27, 2021, of the 290 occupants at Kei-Ai L.A., 230 residents and 173 staff have tested positive for the virus and 104 residents have died. Of the less than 100 occupants at Kei-Ai South Bay, 84 residents and 65 staff have tested positive, and 17 residents have died. Pacifica’s list of transfer destinations for the ICF residents included the two facilities.
Residents, family members, and physicians have strongly objected to transfers to these nursing homes despite the fact that they accepted both Medicare and Medi-Cal. The 91-year-old who wrote the letter most likely did not have a family, and did not have a place to turn to.
On Feb. 3, 2021, Koreisha Senior Care & Advocacy sent a letter to the Keiro Board asking them to request the California attorney general to extend the conditions of the sale for two years or until the pandemic subsides. Every level of political office from U.S. Congressional Representatives Judy Chu, Maxine Waters, and Jimmy Gomez; current and former California State Assemblymen Al Muratsuchi, Miguel Santiago and Warren Furutani; Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, to City Councilman Kevin de Leon supported the letter. Numerous Japanese American organizations, physicians, academics, ICF residents and family members endorsed the letter.
Why was the letter from the community sent to the Keiro Board? The reason for this was that only the seller (Keiro) or the buyer (Pacifica) can request an amendment or an extension of the conditions of the sale. Thus far, Keiro has not responded to the request. The Japanese American community is waiting for your action, which can save the residents of ICF, including the woman who is pleading for help. This is a simple act of kindness that only you can offer.
John Kanai is the president of Koreisha Senior Care & Advocacy. For inquiries, contact email@example.com. Translation by K. Ikeda. Opinions expressed in Vox Populi are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.