Closure of Sakura ICF, Aug. 13, 2021

By JOHN KANAI and KEIKO IKEDA, Ph.D., Koreisha Senior Care & Advocacy

The phone rang and the frail voice at the other end was crying. The call was from an elderly Japanese woman who said that she had nowhere to go, that her roommate was gone and so were her neighbors and friends in the facility. She had no one to talk to and activities were no longer provided. Not too long ago, the dining hall accommodated nearly 100 residents but now she ate silently with five other people. This was a few days before Sakura Intermediate Care Facility closed its doors forever.

Of all the age groups, the pandemic has had the most devastating impact on the seniors.  In the past year, we have received news of COVID outbreaks in the nursing homes and seniors being quarantined for a lengthy period of time. They have suffered through isolation and the devastating consequences of this virus.

The Japanese American elders have not been spared from this situation. In fact, of all the senior facilities in the State of California, the Kei-Ai L.A. Nursing Home has shown the highest COVID infections and deaths of residents. On the other hand, Sakura ICF was completely free of COVID infections and yet, the owner decided to close the facility to convert it into a for-profit housing project. 

The closure of Sakura ICF, one of a few remaining Nikkei senior facilities in the nation, further depletes a safe haven for the JA seniors. It is sad to know that what was once a vibrant senior residence filled with laughter and conversations has been reduced to empty hallways and social halls that echo with ghosts of the past.

One wonders where the residents were transferred to with such paucity of realistic choices for them. One can only hope for their safety and luck to develop trusting new relationships and to survive through the pandemic at their destinations.

We need to rebuild!

There has been a steady growth of the Japanese population in the U.S., such that by 2015, 1.5 million Japanese lived in the U.S. (Pew Research Center, 2017). A breakdown by age groups indicated that in the senior age range (65 and older), there were more foreign-born Japanese (Shin Isseis) than the native-born Japanese in America. Moreover, only half of the Shin Isseis were proficient in the English language. It is also to be noted that 10% of Shin Isseis were living at the poverty level compared to 7.7% of U.S.-born Japanese. 

A nationwide survey to determine the needs of the JA geriatric population was conducted two years ago. The study took into account the massive presence of the Shin Isseis, their difficulty with English language, and their financial standing with 1 out of 10 individuals living at the poverty level

Outcome of the Survey

A large pool of 1,476 participants took part in the research. They were Shin Isseis, second-, third- and fourth-generation JAs and individuals of mixed heritage. The vast majority of the participants felt that the Japanese culturally sensitive services were an important factor in deciding their long-term care residence. Of the different types of long-term care facilities, the respondents showed the highest interest in living in a Nikkei nursing home. While Shin Isseis needed Japanese language and bilingual staff to care for them, the English-speaking JAs expressed interest in Japanese foods and Japanese services. 

Findings also indicated a lack of awareness of many Japanese Americans of the current cost of facility-based care. Also, a number of Nikkei individuals expressed an immediate need to receive care for their family member with dementia. The conclusion of the study was that there would be a continued demand and shortage of nursing and assisted-living beds in the Japanese American community. 

The study recommended that a task force of experts in property development and finances be formed to come up with plans for a Nikkei nursing facility.

The task force to rebuild a nonprofit Nikkei senior facility was started a year ago and Koreisha Senior Care began a fundraising campaign to achieve this goal. The facility would provide care to seniors with physical and cognitive disabilities, and would accept government insurances as well as private pay to accommodate individuals of different levels of financial standing. 

A GoFundMe account was established for this purpose — www.gofund.me/76e3974a — and we ask for generous donations from the community.

55 years ago, the Japanese American leadership had the foresight to create the Nikkei Homes for the Aged to provide a sanctuary for the elders and to relieve the next generation of worries of caring for them. Seniors now are experiencing greater longevity than ever before and with it comes need for a longer period of care. The current number of beds available to the JA seniors is severely and painfully inadequate.

Koreisha Senior Care & Advocacy is a 501c nonprofit organization formed in 2016 to advocate for the well-being of seniors in the Japanese American community.

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