By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
For over 40 years, Keiro Northwest has proudly served the aging Asian American community.
As the nursing home industry continues to face financial challenges, Keiro’s new CEO, Bridgette Takeuchi, is prepared and focused on making Keiro the best that it can be.
While change can be uncomfortable to some, Takeuchi is optimistic about the future.
Takeuchi, 38, who is half Japanese and half Caucasian, knows she looks different and she represents the future generations that some folks may be nervous about.
She took the helm from Jeffrey Hattori earlier this year after spending 10 years in audit and governance through vice president positions at Symetra Financial.
Response to community feedback and challenges
Ahead of a town hall event on Aug. 9, a community member, who has a loved one at Keiro, sent a letter addressed to specific employees including Takeuchi.
Takeuchi said that the letter contained outrageous and false claims. The organization responded with a full-page ad in local newspapers, including the Northwest Asian Weekly, reassuring the community of Keiro’s direction and priorities.
She wanted to assure the community that there are no plans to sell Keiro, nor is the organization changing its nonprofit status. In addition, Takeuchi said that her number one goal is to bring transparency to the organization’s financial situation.
“The industry is being hit right now and it’s a tough time to be in this line of work,” she said.
Prior to Takeuchi coming on board, there was a compression with Medicaid rates. Rates don’t cover the cost on a heavily regulated industry and Keiro gets reimbursed $230 for a resident that lives on-site, but it costs Keiro about $390 per day to take care of someone.
With the tight regulations and requirements, rates haven’t kept up.
Takeuchi cited the pressure from the minimum wage in Seattle; for example, someone could work at a burger joint and make more money than a caretaker.
There is a 24-hour RN coverage requirement, but the shortage of nurses makes it difficult for Keiro to find the help they need to support members of the API community who are living longer.
Keiro residents often come for short-term stays at first, but they end up staying at the facility for a long time and that pattern has caused the Medicaid population to grow over time.
“Seventy-five percent of our building is on Medicaid. When you come to a facility like ours, that’s unique. We provide all the language services, activities, and they stay here with us for a while,” she said.
Takeuchi was brought on board to help stabilize the organization financially and operationally. They realized quickly that they needed to figure out how to get additional funding to buy them time, so they could implement operational changes to help them in the long run.
Takeuchi said that even if they created efficiencies from an expense and revenue perspective, there’s a six-month lag before they see returns.
“It’s a tough message for this community to accept, everyone has a sense of real ownership in the organization. To be here is a little bit shocking and some folks are having a hard time with that,” she said.
Takeuchi is optimistic for positive changes to come for Keiro Northwest.
They recently brought in a new interim director of nursing who has great experience in the field.
“We’ll continue to get better and provide better service. We’ve maintained a five-star quality service rating,” she said.
Takeuchi said that a lot of change all at once can be uncomfortable, but her late mentor and one of the co-founders of Keiro Northwest, Tosh Okamoto, had confidence in her.
“Tosh called me hours before he passed to tell me that he had the confidence in me to have strength to face criticism. He knew I represented the change. He said, ‘You can pull this community together and you can put Keiro on the right path.’”
Okamoto’s words, as well as support from Keiro co-founder and board member Tomio Moriguchi, keep her focused.
As a result, Keiro will be kicking off a “40 More Years” campaign to fundraise and buy time to implement changes that are necessary to sustain the business.
Takeuchi plans to continue Hattori’s legacy to broaden Keiro’s focus on serving the greater API community.
Takeuchi recalled her great grandmother needing a facility that offered familiar languages, activities, and food that appeased her palette. As the Japanese Americans have assimilated over time, Takeuchi believes that the Japanese community can pull together what their ancestors needed to give back to those who need it today.
As of July 1, Keiro’s residents were made up of 32 percent Chinese, 30 percent Japanese, 12 percent Vietnamese, and 12 percent of other API.
Takeuchi said that Keiro has a very low staffing ratio, which is great from a service perspective.
“We want to honor that and better manage how we staff for 150 beds. We’ll be implementing operational changes to help manage staffing — changing how our shifts are assigned so they better reflect hospitals, so folks can work at both organizations,” she said.
As a skilled nursing facility that is the second most regulated industry after the nuclear industry, the organization needs to complete an elaborate 500-question report that logs all resident activities, including assisting someone with eating and toileting needs.
“We need to be able to provide better resources for our staff so they can be better educated and capture services that we’re providing from a paperwork perspective,” she added.
The power of community
“It’s a beautiful gift to reach our hand back and pull together for the other APIs who have since immigrated to this country,” Takeuchi said of fulfilling Hattori’s legacy.
Takeuchi emphasized the importance of coming together as a community.
“Every day I wake up, the board wakes up to the spirit of kimochi in our hearts. That compassion for service, but I’m not perfect, we’re not perfect.
We have a challenge ahead of us. This is a time to pull the community together. Change is hard. Pushing away or pointing fingers in this moment is not what we need right now. That’s not what the residents need. It’s disrespectful to the legacy of the “Magnificent Seven” who started this. We need to pull together, put personal feelings aside, and work together to make this organization what it could have always been and what it should be. It’s time for this community to pull together,” Takeuchi said.
Takeuchi said that the organization intends to raise $2 million in three to four months.
“That’s an ambitious goal, but I have never been accused of anything less than ambitious. We’re going to do this,” she said.
“I pride myself on wherever I go or wherever I’ve been that I like to leave things better than I came in. It’s not time to be distracted. It’s time to focus and come together as a team,” she said.
In the coming months, Keiro will be hosting a series of “Keiro Conversations” in the Kimochi room at Keiro on the first Tuesday of each month, starting on Sept. 4 from 2 to 4 p.m.
Takeuchi looks forward to hearing from folks and talking about ways to partner with one another.
“I can’t be anything but optimistic and positive, and creating a positive work environment where we feel the inspiration. It’s time to open our hearts to new friendships and really just come together. We can talk about how to make this organization the best it can be,” she said.
Nina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.