South Bay SOSN representatives at Torrance City Hall: Shige Kabashima, Mitchell Matsumura, Atsuko Fukunaga. (Courtesy SOSN)

TORRANCE — The Torrance City Council on July 11 voted unanimously to send a letter of support for investigations into the high number of COVID deaths at the 300-bed skilled nursing facility Kei-Ai Los Angeles, formerly part of the Keiro nursing home system.

Keiro’s nursing homes in Lincoln Heights and Gardena and its intermediate care facility and retirement home in Boyle Heights were sold to Pacifica Companies, a for-profit resort developer, in 2016.

Councilmember Jon Kaji proposed the original resolution urging L.A. County, the State of California and the U.S. Department of Justice “to investigate the lack of health equities in the Japanese community during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

But Kaji’s motion found no second after Councilmember Asam Sheik stated, “The COVID pandemic had dire consequences for everyone and was not confined to just the Japanese community outside of Torrance.”

Sheik proposed a broader amendment that would also seek an investigation of nursing homes in Torrance on “behalf of all residents.”

One speaker during the public comment period concurred, alleging inadequate service at Driftwood Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center in Torrance.

Kaji responded that many Torrance residents are of Japanese descent and were directly impacted by the tragedy at Kei-Ai, and that the number of deaths was much greater than in any other facilities, 115 deaths out of 503 cases.

The entire City Council then agreed to send an official signed letter to regulatory agencies instead of a resolution. A broader resolution that includes Torrance nursing homes may be considered at the next meeting.

Kaji told The Rafu Shimpo, “The letters will be sent to the County of Los Angeles, State of California, and U.S. federal agencies, with copies to be distributed to the elected officials at each level of government. The letter will incorporate the language from the proposed resolution.

“City staff has been tasked with researching the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Torrance senior care nursing facilities.

“My original proposal to issue a resolution was unanimously supported by the council. While I am disappointed that the final resolution did not obtain the same level of support, I am hopeful that the City Council’s letter will add to those of other elected officials calling for an investigation of the former Keiro Senior HealthCare facilities now owned by the Pacifica Companies.”

The Torrance City Council has added its voice to those of Rep. Judy Chu, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus; Reps. Jimmy Gomez (who represents Little Tokyo), Maxine Waters and Ted Lieu; and Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi. Waters, Lieu and Muratsuchi represent parts of Torrance and Gardena, which have large Japanese American populations.

“I’m happy they are supporting the investigations,” said Shige Kabashima, a Torrance resident and Japanese immigrant. “While COVID tragically impacted all people, I want to emphasize that the Japanese and JA community was impacted far greater than others at this one particular facility, and that it is proper, accurate and not exclusionary of other nationalities to note the Japanese community’s extraordinary losses. We must investigate to find out how to prevent such disasters in the future for all people.”

Also speaking on behalf of Save Our Seniors Network during the public comment period were Mitchell Matsumura, David Monkawa, Reggie Wong and Atsuko Fukunaga.

In addition to Kaji and Sheikh, Mayor George Chen, Mayor Pro Tem Sharon Kalani and Councilmembers Bridgett Lewis and Mike Griffiths participated in the discussion. Councilmember Aurelio Mattucci was absent.

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