By Mahlon Meyer
Northwest Asian Weekly
As the Keiro Northwest nursing home nears its closing, CEO Bridgette Takeuchi confirmed to the Northwest Asian Weekly that five people have died since the announcement of the closure.
“Transition trauma is a real risk and something that weighed heavily on management as a part of this decision [to close]… unfortunately, five of our past residents passed away during their transition,” Takeuchi said.
Most of the 115 nursing home residents have moved out of Keiro, with 11 remaining as of Aug. 9.
Meanwhile, a former board member, Matt Chan, told the Northwest Asian Weekly that Keiro Northwest was conducting an assessment on Nikkei Manor when he left the board in June.
“I left because I didn’t want to leave myself open to any personal liability issues,” he said.
“I wanted to make sure all decisions were people centered,” he added.
In response to an email, Keiro declined to comment.
“Unfortunately I am not at liberty to discuss the details of decisions being assessed at this time. These decisions will impact our two greatest stakeholders, our residents and our employees. Because of this sensitivity we want to ensure that any decisions are communicated through appropriate channels and at appropriate times,” said Takeuchi.
“What I will say is that I am incredibly proud to be a part of a team who were, top to bottom, committed to ensuring the most compassionate closure. These employees have worked tirelessly to take care of all of our residents and they will continue to do so until the last resident leaves. These incredible human beings have left an incredible mark on so many lives, including mine. I am proud to not only them my co-workers, but my family for life.”
Meanwhile, a petition circulating online, which was orchestrated by Kathleen Nguyen and other members of the Keiro Northwest community, alleges that Nikkei Manor is at risk of shutting down.
“This decision [to close Keiro] also had zero planning, no pre-planning again for keeping Nikkei Manor open,” said the petition. “This means that over 50 MORE elders may be displaced. Our Nikkei Manor seniors are left in the dark, overcome by worry about the unknown.”
The petition, which was also supported by Chinatown International District groups, demands that Keiro Northwest affiliate with Transforming Age, a Bellevue-based nonprofit.
A difficult decision
It was in May that the board announced its decision to close Keiro, the skilled nursing and rehab center.
At the time, members of the community and staff members stood up at a town hall meeting and implored the board to affiliate with Transforming Age.
The board had chosen not to affiliate in a close vote.
Board members who voted against it apparently saw the closing of Keiro as inevitable. Board majority members at the time cited a skilled nursing facility on Vashon Island that had been acquired by Transforming Age in 2017. The facility, Vashon Community Care, which was in deep financial trouble when it affiliated with Transforming Age, in less than a year and a half had its skilled nursing facility shut down, according to the Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber.
At the time, Keiro was coping with the same kind of calamitous financial problems that undermined the Vashon facility.
Board members said Keiro was losing $300,000 a month, mainly on account of the massive disparity between the costs associated with caring for over a hundred patients and low reimbursement from Medicaid. Keiro’s overhead was also high due to its long tradition of providing high-quality food, programs, and staffing.
Meanwhile, cuts in Medicaid reimbursement loomed, they said, which would have further devastated Keiro.
Chan said that by the time he left the board in June, Keiro was losing $100 a day per resident.
A better alternative?
Petitioners argue that the real reason board members did not want to affiliate with Transforming Age was because they would be replaced by a board chosen by the new organization.
“We are aware that this will mean that the Transforming Age Board of Directors will become our new board,” wrote the petitioners. “We understand and accept that this new board will be diverse and not solely Japanese American.”
The petition also reiterated a charge made during the town hall meeting that Keiro board members were not health care experts.
“We welcome this change wholeheartedly as for the first time, Keiro Northwest will have representation from professionals who are experts in Senior Living and the Senior Health Care Industry,” it continued.
As of press time, 683 people had signed the petition.
The petition also claims that the Keiro board knew that a portion of residents would inevitably die as a result of the closure due to “transition trauma.” During an interview with Keiro Northwest co-founder Tomio Moriguchi in May, he expressed concern over this.
Petitioners say that board members acted under a worst-case scenario in voting to close Keiro, assuming that affiliation offered no hope for keeping Keiro going.
Still, it was not clear from the petition if the sponsors had considered that even in the worst case—an eventual shutdown—an affiliation with Transforming Age might have allowed residents of Keiro to at least stay in place a few months or years longer—as was the case in Vashon.
Takeuchi, who has been CEO since last year, said that in retrospect, Keiro might have been able to adapt to changes in the industry environment by making radical changes years ago, but a culture of seeking unanimity may have worked against this.
In answering a question about whether the community could have done more to help Keiro with its financial difficulties, she said she disagreed.
“We got here because of many reasons. Probably the biggest I would say is that 10-plus years ago (or at least 5 years ago), we should have done some very innovative strategic planning.”
“Reviewing the data and what I could gather during my short tenure, it appears as though there has always been a tendency to not make definitive decisions or clearly commit to a strategy,” she said. “There are a lot of opinions and a lot of attempts to ‘get everyone to agree.’”
“Culturally, I understand this. But that’s not always possible,” she said.
“And while we talked about it, the rest of the industry moved on (sold, affiliated, diversified), and we tried to expand and do new things (e.g. Home Care), but never with absolute commitment and investment.”
One option, she said, might have been to establish a location on the Eastside.
“I think that coming to the inner city, for the next generation of Japanese Americans, those over 30, is not appealing,” she said.
Takeuchi said she did try to further push some of the strategies that had been recently implemented, such as transitional care, but by then, it was too late.
Mahlon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.