Elderly Japanese Americans Must Find New Housing After State Approves Closure Of Their Senior Home

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

By Josie Huang, LAist, May 20 2021

Ida Kawasaki’s aunt lives at the Sakura Gardens facility slated to close. Kawasaki has joined a group fighting the closure. (JOSIE HUANG/LAIST)

This week, dozens of residents at a senior living campus established decades ago for L.A.’s Japanese American elders got the news they’ve been dreading: The state of California has given the owner permission to close part of the Sakura Gardens facility in Boyle Heights.

This means that residents of the intermediate care facility tagged for closure by Pacifica Cos. will have to transfer elsewhere by July 20, according to an email sent to their families on Wednesday.

Loretta Hultman and her siblings are now searching for a new home for their 95-year-old mother, who has lived at the facility for 14 years.

“Having the elderly move out and not knowing if it’s safe or not is just inhumane,” Hultman said.

Hultman is even more worried about other residents who don’t have family to help them with the search or to acclimate to a new place. Many are on Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program, and have fewer options than those on private insurance.

“When you’re young, you can advocate for yourself, but these are all people that are 90, 100 years old and depend on the kindness of others,” Hultman said.

When you’re young, you can advocate for yourself, but these are all people that are 90, 100 years old and depend on the kindness of others.”

— Loretta Hultman

Until this week, families held out hope that the state Department of Public Health would reject the application to close from the San Diego-based Pacifica.

Residents at the intermediate care facility receive bilingual and culturally-specific care — which is increasingly hard to find and especially critical to many who primarily speak Japanese. Family members have been pleased that the facility has stayed free of COVID-19 through the pandemic, even as another Pacifica property, Kei-Ai LA in Lincoln Heights, saw one of the highest death rates of any nursing home in the state.

But Pacifica maintains it has no choice but to close, claiming it has operated the intermediate care facility at a loss since it bought the Sakura Gardens campus from the non-profit Keiro five years ago.

The company says it loses tens of thousands of dollars each month because of low reimbursement rates from the state’s Medi-Cal program for intermediate care — which falls between skilled nursing and assisted living.

The terms of the sale — which drew fierce opposition from many in the Japanese American community — had required Pacifica keep existing services for five years. That time period ended in February. Pacifica last year revealed what it possibly had in mind for the facility’s future when it shared plans to replace it with multi-family housing.

Hultman is part of a coalition of families and community activists who say the fight is not over. They’re pushing legislation that would delay a move. AB 279 bars certain senior care facilities from forcing residents to move during a pandemic.

Save Our Seniors, a group that formed to keep the residents in their home, is also lobbying California Attorney General Rob Bonta to intervene, while advising residents they should not feel rushed to move out until they find an appropriate new home.

“We want to make sure that the residents continue to get the same quality, culturally-appropriate care and are not forced to accept less than what they have,” said co-chair Traci Imamura.

Kei-Ai LA, which has Japanese-speaking staff, is on the list of suggested transfer locations for residents of the intermediate care facility, but Hultman said she is not even considering the nursing home given its record during the pandemic.

Hultman said she’s reluctant to take her mother from her long-time home and community of friends and staff. But she is worried about a stay to the “bitter end” as she hears about staff layoffs at the facility.

“It’s not the right environment for someone to be there,” Hultman said.

Pacifica has not responded to a request for comment.

The company is keeping open two other facilities on the Sakura Gardens campus: an assisted living community that existed at the time of the purchase and a dementia care unit that was added later.