When I was at UCLA, I had a roommate whose neighbor happened to be Edwin Hiroto, one of Keiro’s founders. Since we were (like most college students) starving students, we used to hang out at his house quite often, where his parents would feed us. So I got to know Edwin very well.
After college, I went into the army and was stationed in a base camp in Vietnam. Edwin would write me letters occasionally, telling me about this “Keiro project”—at the time, I had no idea what a “Keiro” was! However, after I came home in 1968, he asked me to come work for him as an assistant administrator. Eventually I worked in finance and administration for both Keiro Nursing Home and The Memorial Hospital of the Japanese Community dba City View Hospital (which were sister non-profit organizations) for eleven years.
Early Visions and Victories
The early days of Keiro started with operating hospitals, but shortly after moved onto expand services through nursing homes. When we bought the Lincoln Park property and built Keiro Nursing Home in 1969, it was a 99-bed facility. By then, we were beginning to understand that, for that time, the future was in nursing homes, long-term care, and residential care. We realized that was where we were headed and should be headed, too.
One of the goals we set for Keiro Nursing Home was to change the overall perception of the nursing home industry, which had a poor reputation. Back then if you spoke to anyone that went to a nursing home, they would have said you had to leave dollar bills for your mom or dad because that’s the only way you would get someone to help them. We were determined to change that standard with our facility—and I think we did. We were much ahead of its time, so much so that the health department would use Keiro as a training ground: they would bring their new inspectors to Keiro and tell them, “This is what a facility can be.” We were all quite proud of that. Everybody, from the orderlies and the maintenance crew to all of management, took the spirit of Keiro to heart. I think we really built something that not only changed an industry, but for us, took care of our older generation.
From Dawn to High Noon in the Digital Era
The time period of when I started at Keiro in 1968 was also kind of the dawn of the digital age. For example, City View Hospital used to pay a service bureau to do our payroll, because very few people could afford computers back then. Because of the constrained budget of a nursing home, I started doing the payrolls for Keiro manually. A little later on we finally got our own IBM computer for all of the facilities, a first-generation system programmed through wires plugged into boards. I had extra incentive to learn, because the faster I learned, the less time I had to do it manually! But now everything is online; it’s just normal evolution. It’s something that had to happen, so it’s nice to see how we’ve grown.
But with this technological development came the closure of the hospital, a shift Keiro had to make. As technology kept rolling along, it became impossible for a 50-bed hospital to buy the fancy equipment that was coming into common use in those days. A declining occupancy rate combined with the technological financial burden, caused the closure of City View Hospital in 1985.
After my employment ended with Keiro, I was basically a volunteer—and when Edwin was there, whatever he wanted, I would do. Edwin was one of my dearest friends, as well as a general role model. I was very, very fortunate in having someone like Edwin Hiroto as a mentor. Going through business school, I would sometimes hear stories about the professional world and start to wonder, “All these things my mother taught me about being a good person, being honest—do all these things still count?” Having someone like Edwin around reinforced the fact that yes, those things count. They count in business, and they count in your personal life.
There were times when we would be at certain events, and he would praise all the things other people did to make Keiro a success. I would tell him privately, “Man, you never take any credit for anything!” He would respond, “Ken, that’s our job. The people I’m thanking are the ones that don’t have to do this.” As I’ve gotten older, I really understand what he meant. Working at Keiro was the foundation of my entire business and personal life.
Although I didn’t work for Keiro after those early years, I stayed involved in a couple ways. One of those ways was Keiro’s Genki Veterans Conference, where we got a bunch of Japanese American veterans together and brought in the Veterans Affairs to connect with them.
This association with the Veterans Affairs (VA) was really a tremendous thing in terms of applying for benefits, understanding more about PTSD, and even supporting spouses of the veterans in our community. It had been a big help, and I’m thankful to this day and forever for being involved with that.
Shifting Situations, Consistent Care
Despite all the changes Keiro has undergone, I think the dedication to the wellbeing of the aging population in the Japanese American community has stayed the same. Of course, things have evolved since I started in 1968. By now, Keiro has done things like working with the Veterans Administrations or the caregiver programs. I used to have my father-in-law living with me, and those types of programs were very helpful. I think it has been a good evolution, as it’s incumbent on Keiro to continue to be relevant to the community.