Keiro celebrates 50 years of caring for Nikkei seniors in Southern California

LOS ANGELES — Keiro Senior HealthCare, the largest nonprofit health care organization serving older Japanese Americans, is celebrating its 50th year of enhancing the quality of life for seniors in the Nikkei community.

Volunteers help enhance the quality of life at Keiro. photo courtesy of Keiro Senior HealthCare

One in five Japanese Americans is over age 65, almost twice the national average. As the number of senior citizens increases, Keiro, with the support of donors, volunteers and families, will continue to evolve and meet the ever-changing health care needs of the Nikkei community, stated Shawn Miyake, president and chief executive officer.

Keiro, which has helped more than 125,000 families, offers residential living, assisted living, intermediate care, skilled nursing and rehabilitation care, and support for residents struggling with Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive impairments.

Its facilities include Keiro Nursing Home in Lincoln Heights, South Bay Keiro Nursing Home in Gardena, and Keiro Intermediate Care Facility (ICF) and Keiro Retirement Home, both located on its main campus in Boyle Heights just east of Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles.

Both Keiro Nursing Home (300 individuals) and South Bay Keiro Nursing Home (98 individuals) serve those who need 24-hour skilled nursing care or rehabilitation and medication administered by a licensed nurse. Services include support for those with Alzheimer’s disease or cognitive loss, and shorter stays for patients needing nursing care and rehabilitation after being hospitalized. Admission requires a physician’s referral. Payment is by private funds or through Medicare, Medi-Cal or selected HMO and PPO insurers.

Keiro Intermediate Care Facility provides care for seniors who need light nursing care and assistance with daily activities. The 90 individuals in private and semi-private rooms can enjoy walking and exercise programs, life-enriching classes and rehabilitation (speech and occupational therapies). This residence is for persons who need intermittent care and can walk (with or without cane or walker). A physician’s referral is required.

Keiro Retirement Home is an independent living community for residents age 60 and older who can walk (cane is permitted) and are continent. Furnished studio and one-bedroom apartments offer 154 residents independence and privacy. They dine on Japanese and Western-style meals, participate in educational and exercise programs to optimize wellness, go on outings to shop or take in traditional Japanese arts and performances.

The facility offers a pharmacy, podiatry services, Lifeline emergency alert system, on-site postal and banking services, social services and 24-hour security services in a gated complex.

Pros and Cons on Keiro
“I am very comfortable here, very well taken care of,” said Fujie Wade, 79, a native of Ehime Prefecture, Japan, who came to the United States in 1958 and serves as president of the Keiro Retirement Home Resident’s Council. “My health is fine, except for a little trouble walking, but not too bad.”

Wade, a widow, worked as a movie company chef and lived in Beverly Hills before coming to Keiro Retirement Home 11 years ago. “To most people, talking about a retirement home sounds depressing,” she commented. “They think it sounds like the end of life.

“But we are having a wonderful time, with so many activities,” she explained. “We go out quite often to concerts, restaurants, museums, the seaside, festivals or the Indian casinos.”

Hawai‘i-born Fujio Matsui, a retired Army officer who later worked as a bank executive before moving to Keiro Retirement Home, recalled, “Initially, I didn’t think much about coming here. But my wife, Chiyoko, wanted to come to L.A. after 35 years in the Camarillo area. I’m beginning to enjoy it here after 3-1/2 years.”

Matsui, 81, and his wife of 60 years waited 4-1/2 years to secure a one-bedroom apartment at Keiro. “They really take good care of you here. My health is so-so, I have some heart problems. But the doctors are close by, we have Lifeline and various exercise classes.”

Matsui likes the pace of living at Keiro. “Retirement life is pretty good. You can do whatever you want. We socialize with other residents and take part in game nights, singing contests and dancing classes. I like it that meals are included. That way, we don’t have to cook.”

The volunteers have been very good, he continued. “We can go anywhere on Keiro’s van — to Little Tokyo, to see the doctor, or have lunch or go shopping. We’re comfortable here, we have no worries. I can’t think of any downside.”

Leo Shinohara, 74, whose mother was a patient at Keiro Nursing Home for six years before passing away in November 2001, said he has “pro-and-con” feelings about the Nursing Home. “They have different programs that help out the patients. And the meals are all right.”

Shinohara, a retired City worker who often visits two female relatives at Keiro and volunteers for the monthly Bingo nights, stated there is room for improvement.

“The administrators should take a cut in pay and give more money to the lowest ranking workers, like the CNAs (certified nursing aides), kitchen workers and custodians. Some of the CNAs have hurt their backs lifting the patients. I also don’t like that they bring the patients outdoors to the smoking area where it still smells like cigarettes. That can’t be good for them.”

Room for Improvement
“We’re not perfect, we make mistakes,” Miyake conceded. “But we try to understand what happens and work with the residents and families to make sure they are comfortable.”

When people move into Keiro, they don’t have the stress of taking care of their homes, he commented. “They’re getting three nutritionally balanced meals a day, and there’s staff here if there is a problem. That kind of support gives them a higher quality of life.”

Keiro’s Founding
Keiro began in 1961 when eight community leaders — George Aratani, Edwin Hiroto, Kiyoshi Maruyama, James Mitsumori, Gongoro Nakamura, Frank Omatsu, Joseph Shinoda, and Fred Wada — established Keiro Senior HealthCare to meet the needs of Nikkei seniors in their twilight years with a culturally-sensitive environment with familiar language, food and values.

Purchasing the old Japanese Hospital of Los Angeles — established in the 1920s to overcome anti-Japanese discrimination at mainstream hospitals — and incorporating it as the nonprofit City View Hospital, Keiro provided hospital care under the leadership of Edwin Hiroto. By 1969, a community-wide fundraising campaign raised enough money to open Keiro Nursing Home to provide long-term care for seniors released from hospitals.

In 1974, Keiro purchased five acres of land from the Jewish Home for the Aged in Boyle Heights for a reported $1 million and soon opened Keiro Retirement Home in 1975. Subsequently, Keiro Intermediate Care Facility began there in 1977.

With an annual operating budget of $39 million, Keiro, which began as a nursing home caring for 40-50 Japanese, today serves 640 residents. “When you’re taking care of that many people 24 hours a day, you need three shifts of people — 600 staff, plus about 700 volunteers. Without the help of our volunteers, it would be impossible to carry on,” Miyake revealed. “Payroll is probably a majority of our expense.”

The bulk of Keiro’s funding comes from the government — for Medicare and MediCal — but in the last year California has cut reimbursements to healthcare providers by 10 percent and the federal government has cut 11 percent, Miyake revealed. “Donations, representing less than 10 percent of our operating revenue, are increasingly more important.”

The largest supporters of Keiro are prominent people, he said, but donors represent every strata of the community. “There’s a significant outpouring from all levels of our community, including individuals who send us $10 a year.”

Keiro’s achievement is “really unparalleled,” Miyake announced. “When other Asians visit to learn how we do it, they can’t believe that such a small community can support all this.”

Lifestyle Management
Keiro’s future is “immense, because there’ll always be a place in our community for a nursing home,” Miyake related. “Unlike 50 years ago, today, a number of people come in, spend 90 days to get rehab, then go back home. Our goal is to help and support people to live at home. That’s going to require lifestyle adjustments — watching what they eat, exercising and avoiding stress.”

Seventy percent of all chronic disabilities are either preventable or improvable by making lifestyle changes, he added. “It makes sense for us to get more involved with our own lifestyle management. There aren’t enough nurses and doctors for everybody.”

Miyake, who has been at Keiro 17 years, exclaimed, “I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I will say that, on behalf of all the other staff members, we consider it an honor to have families entrust their loved ones to our care. We take it very personally.”

For more information about Keiro Senior HealthCare, call (323) 980-7555, e-mail contact@keiro.org or visit www.keiro.org.

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