Save Our Seniors Urges Department of Health to Reject Sakura ICF ‘Transition Plan’

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By Rafu Shimpo, Los Angeles Japanese Daily News

The following letter was sent on April 5 to Cassie Dunham, acting deputy director of the California Department of Public Health, by Taiji Miyagawa and David Emiliano Zapata Maldonado, Ph.D. on behalf of the Save Our Seniors Network Coordinating Committee.

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Save Our Seniors (SOS) Network writes in the strongest terms possible to object to the so-called “Transition Plan” (“Plan”) submitted Monday, March 29, 2021 by Sakura ICF Administrator Beverly Ito on behalf of its owners, the San Diego-based Pacifica Companies. Sakura ICF is the only facility of its type in California, providing unique community-based bilingual, bicultural care to Japanese-speaking frail elderly in Boyle Heights, near Los Angeles’ historic Little Tokyo.

Poster from an SOS protest held outside Sakura ICF on Feb. 19. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

This Plan should be called out for what it is: a facility CLOSURE plan that — if approved by your agency — would lead to the eviction of over 50 medically fragile adults in the middle of a once-in-one-hundred-year global health pandemic. For most of these vulnerable seniors, this would not be the first time in their lives that they will have faced involuntary relocation.

The 30-page Sakura ICF closure is long on duplicative forms, but is substantively inadequate, ill-timed, and inherently dangerous:

1) Inadequate because none of the Exhibit 1 “Community Beds Available” meet the ICF level of care, safety requirements and/or are unaffordable for those residents on Medi-Cal.

2) Ill-timed because COVID-19 restrictions on visiting new facilities preclude residents and their families from making informed consent and at a time when nearly 700 new daily infections are being reported in Los Angeles County.

3) Inherently dangerous because of the well-researched and well-documented risks related to “transfer-trauma” in compromised patients, which would only be exacerbated in the absence of bilingual, bicultural staff, food, access to supportive religious practices and visits from family members. NOTE: SOS Network members have independently surveyed the facilities identified in Pacifica’s Exhibit 1, and found the availability of Japanese-speaking staff either sorely lacking or non-existent.

What is particularly illogical and cruel is the Plan’s options for the 100% COVID-free Sakura ICF residents to be moved to two of Pacifica’s sister facilities, Kei-Ai South Bay, or Kei-Ai Los Angeles, which holds The L.A. Times’ dubious distinction as “the state’s deadliest nursing home.” The combined COVID-19 death toll for these two facilities now stands at 121, with Kei-Ai Los Angeles having the highest number of skilled nursing facility deaths west of the Mississippi (107). Involuntary transfer to such a facility is reprehensible and tantamount to a death sentence for these residents.

In the meantime, the Pacifica Companies has made no secret of its plans to convert the Sakura ICF site into market-rate apartments. Closing new admissions, lagging on facility repairs, subjecting residents to lack of hot water and more are all contributing to a stressful and unpleasant environment for facility residents, family members and staff.

The CDPH should take seriously its duty to ensure the safety of all Californians during a public health crisis, particularly for facility-based older populations that have demonstrably experienced the greatest risk and loss. At the confluence of emerging pandemic variants and the exponential rise in hate incidents against the Asian American and Pacific Islander populations, we urge you to exercise the authority of your agency to reject the Sakura ICF pretextual closure Plan.

There is no reason for Pacifica Companies to evict poor, elderly Japanese-speaking residents from their homes during the pandemic other than greed.

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