By Arlene Kiyomi Dennistoun
Northwest Asian Weekly
“Think big,” exclaimed Jeffrey Hattori. It’s a statement that partly defines the man who speaks of honor in caring for seniors as CEO of Keiro Northwest, formerly Nikkei Concerns.
The latest, greatest programs and projects at Keiro peppers the conversation with Hattori, but he attributes successes to others, never to himself. Humility also defines the man.
Keiro Northwest’s success in helping the Asian elderly community is unsurpassed in the state.
“Keiro” means respect for our elders in Japanese, and Hattori believes the recent name change reflects the changes in healthcare and community needs. Keiro has provided senior care services to the Japanese American and Asian community for 40 years in Seattle, with Hattori at the helm for the past six years. Today, Hattori is always on the lookout for the hottest technology to support elders remaining in their homes, with connections to culturally sensitive, quality care. If he had one wish, Hattori eagerly said, “One button. I’d want to push one button and get all the information I need to care for the people we serve.”
Hattori envisions transformation for the growing community of seniors who want to remain at home, but who have transportation, meal, social, and medical needs. Changes also include services at Keiro’s nursing home, which now emphasizes rehabilitation to get seniors back home as quickly as possible, along with appropriate home services and a continuum of care.
Hattori unceasingly pursues ways to use technology to make that happen. Last year, AARP and Keiro collaborated in a healthcare program using computers and Skype to monitor care for seniors at home. There are different languages built into Skype or tablets that are helpful, said Hattori, and he loves trying new ways to reduce seniors’ isolation and neglect. And he quickly added, “The phone still has a lot of currency with the elderly community.” Hattori knows and understands his community. Whatever the technology, Hattori wants the senior community to engage in life.
Hattori won’t take credit for the success of programs and services, such as the Meals-to-Go catering service Keiro recently began. Pointedly asking Hattori whether it was his idea to cater and deliver Asian “comfort food” proved futile. Hattori steered clear of Keiro’s accomplishments and successes and focused instead on how the community has supported and built the network of care in the Asian senior community. He enthusiastically recalled how someone suggested providing Asian food, and how Keiro began its catering program. “I get this question all the time — this food came from the Keiro nursing home?” People love it, said Hattori.
“It’s an honor to be in a position to be able to support the elders whose shoulders we stand on,” said Hattori. There are about 300 to 400 active volunteers, and Hattori attributes the high number to Keiro’s connection to the lives in the community, so that people feel a sense of ownership. Hattori’s life with Keiro started when he was a 13-year-old volunteer. His mother was a resident for three months before she died. The emotional and empathetic ties to Keiro were unmistakable beneath Hattori’s words.
“I did the dirtiest work cleaning toilets and painting and thought, ‘What have I done?’” laughed Hattori at the memory of the original Keiro nursing home. He became a weekend custodian when he turned 14, and washed dishes and did all sorts of work. Hattori understood and had a good command of the Japanese language and got to talk to residents. It was a pivotal time in Hattori’s life — he was hooked after getting to know the residents.
“Life creates different paths,” said Hattori, responding to why he left in 1999 and returned to Keiro 10 years later. Leaving Keiro allowed Hattori to gain experiences that prepared him for the CEO position later. One of Hattori’s greatest experiences came from his work as a Public Affairs Liaison at Eli Lilly, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. Hattori credits Nate Miles, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at Lilly, for the vision and strategies needed to achieve milestones. “Miles,” Hattori praised, “is the person who told me to think big. He opened my eyes to having a vision.” Working with Miles helped Hattori understand public policy and process. Hattori saw “both sides of the aisle,” became “more whole,” and improved his “peripheral vision.” While at Lilly, Hattori advocated for the company’s agenda and learned how to integrate and align it with community issues, advancing corporate and community plans.
“Everything has helped me — all the experiences I’ve had and people like ‘Uncle Bob’ (Santos) have contributed to where I am today.” After graduating from the University of Washington with a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology, Hattori’s first job was working for “Uncle Bob,” and helping to complete a needs assessment survey for Asian elders. Santos was executive director of the Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority at the time. Hattori saw firsthand how elderly Asians in the Chinatown-International District lived, and it profoundly affected his perspective and fueled his understanding of the enormous housing needs.
Hattori was born and raised in the Southeast Rainier-Beacon Hill area and lived in Japan for a year. Hattori’s parents were “kibei,” meaning they were born in America, but raised and educated in Japan. Hattori’s father returned to America at age 17 in 1947. His mom was born in Juneau, Alaska and stayed in Japan until she was 48 years old, returning to America in 1958. Hattori is a father of six, ages 26, 22, 14, 10, and twin girls aged 4. Hattori is deeply rooted in the Asian community and senior health care, and he’s nowhere close to being finished or satisfied with the status quo. “Transportation is a must” for seniors, Hattori pointed out. We shouldn’t be surprised if someday Keiro begins its own version of Uber, or Keiro drone delivery services, or apps for senior housing needs. Hattori is a visionary and remains restless in his pursuit for quality senior care.
Jeff Hattori will be an honoree at the Northwest Asian Weekly’s Technology and Innovation Awards. The event is Oct. 7 at China Harbor Restaurant from 6–9 p.m. Buy tickets at visionary.bpt.me.
Arlene can be reached at email@example.com.