Activists campaign to protect seniors from eviction

LOS ANGELES — Save Our Seniors Network, a community activist group dedicated to protecting the welfare of the Nikkei residents of nursing facilities and retirement homes, campaigned to stop the evictions of senior citizens from Pacifica-owned Sakura Intermediate Care Facility, as well as their transfer into Pacifica’s previously COVID-infected nursing homes. Nevertheless, according to the group, all of the Nikkei residents no longer reside at the facility.

Pacifica Companies, which purchased the ICF and other Keiro facilities in 2015, has evicted all ICF residents from their Sakura ICF home, enabling the for-profit company to start building a market-rate multi-family residential complex on the Boyle Heights site overlooking Little Tokyo and downtown Los Angeles.

Many of the elderly residents were transferred to Pacifica’s Kei-Ai nursing homes in Lincoln Heights and Gardena, Calif. SOS said in a statement that moving the residents from the COVID-free ICF to the Kei-Ai nursing homes, which have experienced many COVID-related deaths, could be a death sentence for the elderly Nikkei residents.

To commemorate those senior residents who have died over the past year, especially the 123 who passed away from COVID at Pacifica-owned nursing and retirement facilities, SOS and Sakura ICF Family Council held a “Kansha Obon: Dance for Our Seniors” event Aug. 7 at the Japanese American National Museum Plaza in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo.

The program also commemorated all the seniors transferred from Sakura ICF during the pandemic, those who have suffered “transfer trauma,” and those who have passed away “as a result of being taken away from their home, friends and community at Sakura ICF.”

Sakura ICF Is Empty
Pacifica must provide comparable services to what transferred seniors received at Sakura ICF, including bilingual and bicultural care for Medi-Cal residents, SOS demanded. “A major chapter in the history of elderly care for Japanese and Japanese Americans has passed with the emptying of the Sakura ICF.”

Over the past months, the Sakura ICF Family Council and SOS have pressed for a back-up plan to enable as many Medi-Cal residents as possible to move into the Sakura Gardens assisted living facility (former Keiro Retirement Home), which is located on the same campus as the ICF.

“Due to all demonstrations by Nikkei activists, support by politicians, Rafu articles, negotiations by volunteer legal experts, efforts by Koreisha, SOS, CAB (Community Advisory Board), and CANHR (California [Advocates] for Nursing Home Reform), we were able to secure Medi-Cal waived assisted living quarters at Sakura Gardens for a few of the remaining ICF residents,” Dr. Takeshi Matsumoto explained via e-mail.

There were 60 residents at Sakura ICF in April, and about 40 percent of his 15 patients at Sakura ICF had already left, Matsumoto stated. “Now (Aug. 11), there is only one resident left at Sakura ICF, and she’s leaving soon. ICF is empty.”

Pacifica Cited for Violations
SOS noted that since March 1, Pacifica has been cited for committing at least five violations of the law, including: 1) not providing proper assessments of residents before eviction; 2) failures in the water system, which prevented some from bathing; 3) inadequate food nutrition in July; 4) laying off 20 percent of the ICF staff without notice; 5) most recently, for illegal and untrue threats made to residents.

These citations haven’t stopped Pacifica because “the laws have little enforcement mechanism,” David Monkawa of SOS, said. “There are no health care cops, and major penalties are rarely enforced. Nursing home industry lobbyists have free access to Department of Public Health leaders providing suggestions and ideas, according to the Sacramento Bee.”

Urge Support for AB 279
SOS urges concerned individuals to support Assembly Bill 279, sponsored by State Assembly members Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) and Miguel Santiago (D-L.A.), which aims to stop evictions and transfers to nursing homes during the pandemic. SOS noted that California Department of Public Health records show there have been more than 200 improper involuntary transfers since the start of the COVID state of emergency.

“Seniors in residential care facilities are among the most vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Muratsuchi stated in April. “We have a moral obligation to do everything we can to protect these seniors from eviction or transfer trauma. At the very least, we should allow these seniors and their loved ones the peace of mind knowing that their current homes will not be taken away from them during a pandemic.”

AB 279 has since passed the state Legislature, passing Aug. 23 in the State Senate and Aug. 30 in the State Assembly.

Kerry Jacob, communications director for Muratsuchi, told the Nichi Bei Weekly that typically the governor has 12 days to sign or veto the bill, but can have up until 30 days if the governor is in possession of the bill after the Legislature adjourns for interim recess, she explained.

“AB 279 was challenging … given the urgency of the measure which requires a two-thirds vote of each house to pass … and given the opposition from the Department of Public Health,” Jacob revealed. “However, given the support of … Save Our Seniors, JACL, the Attorney General’s Office, the California Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman and the California (Advocates for) Nursing Home Reform, we’ve been able to advance the bill to the Senate floor.”

Pacifica Companies did not respond to the Nichi Bei Weekly’s requests for a comment.

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