US representatives Waters, Chu join fight to stop Keiro sale

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Congresswomen Maxine Waters and Judy Chu are helping activists protesting the sale of the country’s largest provider of senior housing and health care for Japanese-Americans. 

At a rally in Gardena Thursday, the representatives told the 300-person audience they are pressuring state Attorney General Kamala Harris to reverse her approval of the sale of Keiro Senior HealthCare to the for-profit Pacifica Companies.

Waters said she worries the new owner, a real estate firm, will raise rents on the 500-plus residents. 

"Simply put, this is not right, it is not fair, and it is not just," Waters told the crowd.

The attorney general was not immediately available for comment. But spokeswoman Rachele Huennekens said in a written statement: "We hear the concerns that have been raised, and for that reason, the Attorney General’s office will remain actively engaged in ensuring that the healthcare needs of those who depend upon Keiro are met.” 

Keiro said it expects the close of escrow in the coming months. But activists say that won't stop them from fighting the sale. Seeking an injunction to halt the purchase is also a possibility, they say.

Waters said she worked to convene a team of pro-bono lawyers, including attorneys from the law firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, to represent the activists.

Dr. Takeshi Matsumoto, a member of the Ad Hoc Committee to Save Keiro, welcomed the group's high-profile allies in Congress, while criticizing the lack of action by members of the Japanese-American community.

"Where are the leadership of the Japanese-American politicians? " Matsumoto said. "Nada. We are better than this."

Keiro CEO Shawn Miyake said the nonprofit is selling the operation because it’ll be difficult for it to remain financially viable in the future. 

He said as a result of federal health care reform, insurance companies are offering lower reimbursement for care.

Another problem is applications for Keiro's retirement homes have declined by 80 percent in the last decade, Miyake said, noting that second and third-generation Japanese-Americans aren’t seeking out senior homes geared toward them. Miyake said now is the right time to sell.

"The concern is by waiting later, you would have facilities less occupied," Miyake said. "It would be more difficult to pay for the operation."

Ray Hamaguchi, a member of the Ad Hoc Committee to Save Keiro, said he may not end up at a Keiro facility, but he wants others to have the option.

"What I choose to do and my kids to do has no effect on what Keiro was started for and as long as there are people who need it, it should be there," Hamaguchi said. 

The rally was held at a church near one of Keiro's four facilities in Gardena. The other sites are in Boyle Heights and Lincoln Heights.

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