Business & Economy

Planned sale of Japanese senior housing riles community

The pending sale of Keiro senior housing facilities to Pacifica is worrying residents, relatives and community volunteers.
The pending sale of Keiro senior housing facilities to Pacifica is worrying residents, relatives and community volunteers.
John Sequeira via Flickr

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One of the country’s only companies specializing in Japanese elder care is finalizing the $41 million sale of four facilities in the Los Angeles area. But members of the Japanese-American community are racing to stop the transaction.

Critics of the sale say the current owner, Keiro Senior HealthCare, is cashing out at the expense of the senior citizens who live there. Members of the Ad Hoc Committee to Save Keiro say a one-year freeze on rents at Keiro’s retirement home in Boyle Heights is not enough. They're also worried the new owner won’t understand the cultural needs of residents, some of whom only speak their native tongue.

“We’re seeing this has caused widespread depression among the residents and outrage in the community,” said Jon Kaji, a developer from Torrance who’s serving as spokesman for the committee. “No senior should experience this type of uncertainty when you’re in your 80s and 90s. It’s mean-spirited. I don’t know what else to call it.”

Keiro, which means "respect for the elderly" in Japanese, serves about 600 seniors at its operations, which include an assisted living center on the same campus as the retirement home in Boyle Heights, and nursing homes in L.A.'s Lincoln Heights and Gardena.

Keiro’s chief executive officer Shawn Miyake said that the company has gone to great lengths to find a suitable buyer in San Diego-based Pacifica Companies. Miyake said Pacifica will continue to offer Japanese menus, television, books as well as celebrate Japanese holidays and customs.

Miyake added there’s winnowing demand for Japanese-centric services, in large part because Japanese-Americans have high rates of intermarriage with other races. And Japanese-American baby boomers, Miyake said, are less interested in living in Japanese-only settings than their parents, preferring to stay in their homes, or closer to children, many of whom are in LA’s South Bay and Orange County.

Miyake said these demographic changes are a large reason for why Keiro is selling: The non-profit’s mission for more than 50 years has been to cater to the Japanese community, but he said over the last five years, there’s been declining demand for its services, with the occupancy rate at its 140-bed retirement home dropping from 100 percent to 88 percent.

Miyake said a larger entity like Pacifica has more means to absorb financial bumps in the road, because it could spread its administrative overhead over more operating units. It would also have more clout contracting with health plans.  

“We don’t see this as selling the facilities and running away,” Miyake said. “We see this as putting the facilities in a position of strength to be able to respond to many of the challenges that will be coming over the next five years in health care.”

Pacifica is planning to hire two other companies, Northstar Senior Living and Aspen Skilled Healthcare to run its retirement home and nursing homes, respectively.

Keiro is hosting a public forum with Pacifica Thursday night in Little Tokyo at the Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Kaji, whose father Bruce Kaji is the founding president of the Japanese American National Museum, said that community members will be out in full force to confront Keiro and Pacifica management.

“Typically, this community does not show its emotions very readily,” Kaji said. “But we believe, in this instance, they will see a community that is united, that’s very angry and will not hold back.”

Kaji said the sale would have been more palatable had Keiro come up with replacement housing locations in the South Bay or Orange County.

Miyake said the sale to Pacifica has been in the works for the last year and a half and is expected to close escrow in early 2016. It's not Keiro's first attempt to sell.  The Attorney General had rejected Keiro's proposed sale to the Ensign Group in 2014.