February 19, 2009
Entertainment Fund Shuttering Hospital, Care Facilities
In Jill Robinson’s favorite movies, a hero always swoops in when the going gets tough. Standing with a group of protesters Feb. 11 outside the Motion Picture & Television Fund (MPTF) acute-care hospital and nursing home, the author and screenwriter from Westwood said she’s hoping life takes a few cues from art.
Robinson, 72, doesn’t know what she’d do if her husband and fellow screenwriter, Stuart Shaw, 81, is evicted from the long-term care nursing facility, which MPTF board members want to shutter within the year.
“This home represents the spirit of the movie business,” said Robinson, whose father, producer Dore Schary, headed MGM Studios in the 1950s and served as national chair of the Anti-Defamation League. “They have always taken care of the people who need it most. I have to believe they will find another way to make this work. You can’t throw out 100 people who have nowhere else to go.”
The families and caregivers of aging entertainment industry retirees are calling on MPTF executives to rethink last month’s decision to close the Woodland Hills hospital and nursing facility, a move that would oust about 100 elderly residents who live at the facility and leave up to 240 health care workers jobless.
Board members of the 86-year-old organization say the closures are necessary to stem severe financial deficits. In a conference call, fund officials said the facilities would incur operating losses of $10 million a year if they were to remain open.
“If we do not do something in the short term, we will be unable to function in the future,” MPTF Chief Operating Officer Seth Ellis said. He and President David Tillman said the fund has had to cover a $20 million-per-year gap between the cost of health care and charity services and reimbursement from agencies like Medi-Cal, and the imbalance is projected to grow. The rising deficit would eventually lead to a depletion of the nonprofit’s endowment and bankruptcy.
Critics have argued the fund’s 2006 and 2007 tax returns don’t show any loss in revenue, but officials said the losses were overshadowed by two large, one-time donor gifts.
The MPTF “left no stone unturned” in its effort to find a solution to the financial strain, said Frank Mancuso, chair of the fund’s corporate board. “We have looked at all options.”
But some questioned why those options didn’t include asking families for help. Angry relatives of residents at the home said they wished the MPTF would have come forward with its financial concerns sooner so extra funds could be raised to keep the hospital and home viable.
“I wish I had known they were planning to do this,” said graphic designer Kristen Nikosey, a Bell Canyon resident whose mother, Norma Herbert, 90, has been at the nursing home for less than a year. “It’s frustrating that there was no warning.”
Herbert was married to TV personality Don Herbert, a.k.a. “Mr. Wizard,” and worked in the entertainment industry herself for 50 years. She now suffers from crippling Alzheimer’s disease and is on a feeding tube. Nikosey isn’t sure what she would do if her mother were evicted.
The MPTF said teams of physicians, nurses and social workers are counseling nursing home residents to lessen the effects of “transfer trauma” as they relocate to other facilities, but many say it isn’t enough.
“It’s just egregious that people are being forced to go through this kind of change at this stage of their lives,” said Leslie Gersicoff, executive director of the Jewish Labor Committee -Western Region, who stood with protesters in support of the health care worker’s union representing the home’s employees.
MPTF officials acknowledged they could have done a better job communicating their troubles to the public. “We give ourselves a failing grade,” Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks animation and chair of the MPTF Foundation said on the conference call.
But he also defended the organization’s decision to build the new $20 million Saban Center for Health and Wellness, which critics said was inconsistent with the fund’s claim that it was in dire fiscal straits as far back as 2004.
“We are not living above and beyond our means,” Katzenberg said, adding that the center, which opened last year and features a therapy pool and gym, will help the MPTF serve thousands of seniors into the future.
Residents of the nursing home must relocate to a new facility by the end of the year. The more than 200 residents who live at the main retirement community on the Woodland Hills campus will not be affected by the changes.
Members of SEIU United Healthcare Workers West, the union that represents the hospital and nursing home’s employees, are slated to meet with MPTF officials in March to further discuss the organization’s finances.