By Mahlon Meyer
Northwest Asian Weekly
Former Keiro board members are suspicious of the organization’s recent decision to end negotiations with Aspen Skilled Healthcare and what they allege is a move to bring back Transforming Age as a partner.
Keiro Northwest announced back in May that it would close its nursing home due to financial difficulties. The community-based nonprofit was Seattle’s largest and oldest Asian-Pacific Islander senior care facility.
Only one of the 115 nursing home residents remains as of press time; all of the other residents have moved out.
Former board members fear that Transforming Age, a Bellevue-based nonprofit, will sell Keiro’s land or fashion its own assisted living and memory care on the site, leaving the fate of Nikkei Manor even more uncertain.
Speaking off the record, for fear of what they described as months of ominous and unspecific legal threats, they said that at a recent board meeting a little over a month ago, a slim majority reneged on ongoing negotiations with Aspen, which manages Keiro Los Angeles, and handed a contract for the closure of Keiro Northwest to Transforming Age.
“Basically what happened was they had the votes to override the motion to go on with Aspen and the motion was to give the contract to Transforming Age,” said a former board member.
“And so that’s why we lost and that’s why a bunch of us resigned from the board. We felt that the board had reneged on a contract with Aspen.”
Over a dozen board members have resigned in the last six months or been removed.
Earlier this year, the board voted not to affiliate with Transforming Age, fearing that it would eventually shut down Keiro and dispose of its assets.
However, over the past few months, attrition of board members apparently tipped the balance so that a new majority was able to outvote the earlier consensus.
Former board members now wonder if staff and other board members continued to work with Transforming Age clandestinely—or at least to outmaneuver the faction that opposed.
“It was a scheme,” said the former board member. “In other words, the board was not together and my feeling was that the staff and their supporting board members conspired to bring that vote up and we just didn’t have the votes to defeat the motion.”
CEO Bridgette Takeuchi denies any scheming with Transforming Age.
Rather, she and the new Keiro board apparently saw the decision to bring in Aspen by the former board members as last minute and in the long run injudicious.
“Aspen was brought in after our closure was announced and notification had been given to the state that our intention was to close our facility,” she and the board wrote in an email. The Keiro website shows one person on the board and four officers.
“The former board chair did initiate discussions with the entity that manages LA Keiro,” they wrote, “and it became clear that a potential deal was not in the best interest of our organization, financially or to fulfill our mission.”
They were referring to Tomio Moriguchi, one of the founders of Keiro, who was brought in as board chair at the height of Keiro’s troubles, in December of last year. Moriguchi was voted off the board effective Aug 22.
Still, another former board member said that the decision to go with Transforming Age seemed inexplicable.
According to this second former board member, Aspen had promised to pay $8 million or $9 million in cash to Keiro. But Transforming Age, at least in its first offer, had not agreed to pay anything, the former board member said.
The land upon which the Keiro skilled nursing home facility sits is valued between $12 million and $13 million, said the second former board member.
Repeated requests for comment to Transforming Age were not answered as of press time.
A poisonous atmosphere?
The ongoing friction between former board members and Takeuchi and the current board members and officers who support her seems emblematic of the poisonous and anguished atmosphere on the Keiro board over the past half year.
Still another former board member said that Takeuchi made threats during board meetings that board members would be subject to lawsuits, without naming specific names. This board member described an atmosphere of “constant disrespect and lack of trust” between different board members and staff.
“I noticed there was a lot of stalling going on, and misinformation being spread, as well as failure to disclose information,” said this former board member, also speaking off the record for fear of legal reprisal.
“I didn’t know who to trust and initiatives were getting delayed and stalled, and any time new information came out, it was undercut. This raised questions about who was benefiting and why, and at least one board member was wondering if there were still negotiations going on with Transforming Age.”
Still, this same board member, decrying the secrecy and lack of transparency that pervaded board activities, said it seemed the organization was being handled as if it were a for-profit corporation, rather than a nonprofit.
Takeuchi worked in corporate America for over 10 years before coming to Keiro. In multiple email exchanges with Northwest Asian Weekly, she has consistently stressed that disclosure of information relating to ongoing negotiations may jeopardize those negotiations and harm the interests of Keiro and its stakeholders.
Assuming that it was a single source speaking to Northwest Asian Weekly, Takeuchi wrote that the sharing of information relating to internal board decisions was disturbing and contributed to the spread of misinformation.
“We are disturbed and saddened by your source’s eagerness to share confidential information, intended only for members of Keiro’s Board of Directors, with the media, and by the spread of conspiracy theories that have no connection to the reality of the difficult transition Keiro is currently undergoing,” she wrote.
Critics contend, however, that the board has been evasive even before Moriguchi was voted out as chair over such issues as Takeuchi’s salary.
John Okamoto, the son of one of the founders of Keiro, shared a June 7 email with the Northwest Asian Weekly, which asked Moriguchi for a copy of Keiro Northwest’s 2018 990 report. The 990 report, which he expected to be filed with the IRS on May 15, as of press time was still unavailable on the IRS website.
Okamoto was responding to a series of answers provided by the Keiro Konnector, a community newsletter, issued one week earlier in which those interested in finding the salaries of employees were directed to the IRS website.
“The answer forces the reader to chase the information of top salaries, even though it says it is publicly available elsewhere. If it is public, why not put it out?” wrote Okamoto to the board.
The first former board member, reluctant to name a specific number, said that a compensation committee had initially recommended giving Takeuchi a salary increase to a little under $600,000 with a retainer of over $100,000 should she stay until closure.
In the end, this former board member said the board voted to grant her a salary of $400,000 with a retainer of $100,000.
The annual salary for a nursing home administrator, according to Glass Door, is under $100,000.
That figure, however, did not refer to administrators that were negotiating the closing of an institution, as Takeuchi has been doing.
Indeed, this former board member said that the argument was made that she was “doing the work of three people.”
Still, the former board member added, “I felt that we were going to close anyway, so it didn’t matter.”
Takeuchi repeated that her “compensation is publicly disclosed on Keiro’s Form 990 returns.”
“The process for setting my compensation is set out clearly in Keiro’s internal governing documents and has been followed. The numbers you have been given are simply incorrect,” she wrote.
“As of today, the Board of Directors has not offered me a retention bonus to stay through the closure and subsequent transition of the organization,” she added.
Several former board members said that Keiro staff had been told that even with an affiliation with Transforming Age, they would most likely lose their jobs.
They cited Transforming Age’s record with Vashon Community Care. According to the Vashon Maury Beachcomber, some family members of residents felt betrayed by what they thought were promises by Transforming Age to keep the skilled nursing facility open. Yet last month, almost 700 staff members and members of the community signed a petition asking the board to affiliate with Transforming Age, partly anticipating job opportunities.
It is not clear how effective Keiro’s leadership, past or present, has been in helping employees find new positions.
In another series of emailed questions in June that Okamoto shared with the Northwest Asian Weekly, the current leadership wrote that it had set up a computer lab to help employees look for jobs online, since some did not have access to the internet at home. It also said a coach was brought in to help with resumes.
But Okamoto asked if a “designated fund” can “be established to accept donations to assist employees in their employment transition. How can the community be involved in thanking those employees?”
The response was that any funding would be used only for the annual employee picnic—and not for some broader initiative.
“We have asked the Board of Directors to help raise funds ($10,000) in order to fund our annual Employee Picnic. In addition to the employees, our intention is to invite residents, families, vendors, and the Keiro community. This fund has been set up, but again, we’re looking to the Board to take the lead on raising these funds.”
A culture of secrecy
In the end, what seems most frustrating to former board members, as well as many community board members, is a perceived lack of transparency. Whether this comes from internal struggles and infighting on the board or from cultural or even generational differences is unclear. Some community members felt that such lack of transparency stretched back long before the closure was announced, for years.
Summing up the minutes from a family council meeting in May, soon after the closure was first announced, community members wrote, “There did not seem to be a sense of urgency to help inform the public about the dire Keiro NW financial situation.”
Moreover, it is not clear if such opaqueness has increased recently.
“This is a long standing beloved institution in the community,” said the third former board member.
“What we are most concerned about is the lack of transparency. Everything is a secret. Yes, there are things that can’t be disclosed, but the direction needs to be shared.”
Mahlon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.