August 17, 2010
Living in limbo
The closure of Motion Picture Home makes the future uncertain for residents
(Page 2 - Previous Page)
But, for the so-called refuseniks, digging in came with a price, and the families of those who stayed claim their loved ones have been punished for noncompliance. Many say a shift occurred immediately. The congenial community vibe the home had always been known for was replaced with a feeling of callousness and tension. Security was amped up, and new visitation formalities applied — now, families are required to sign in, wear visitor badges and report their whereabouts. A popular dining room was closed, residents say entertainments were reduced, and entire corridors in long-term care have been cordoned off. Families say automated doors allowing residents in wheelchairs access to the outdoors were disabled on weekends, impeding mobility and plucking at quality of life. (MPTF officials dispute this, saying residents continue to have access to the outdoors in all facilities, though “in some cases these access points may be different than what they had been before.”)
Several residents and their relatives filed complaints with Bet Tzedek Legal Services and the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR), citing a decline in the level of care. According to Michael Connors, a CANHR spokesman who served as mediator between residents and MPTF in the months following the closure, some relatives claimed they were barred from visiting loved ones, and others reported accidents and neglect related to inadequacies in staffing. One citation issued by the California Health and Human Services Agency found the MPTF in violation of proper operation of the equipment used to transfer a person into or out of a wheelchair. In this instance, only one of the two staff members required by law was present for the transfer, and an 87-year-old resident fell to the floor, head first, suffering a brain hemorrhage. The fund was fined $7,500.
“The Motion Picture Home has gone from that rare nursing home where the residents felt like it was truly their home to a place where no one knows who to trust,” Connors said. “People felt like they were part of a community there; now they feel like their larger community is trying to abandon them. Everything is a secret.”
The MPTF paints a different picture. In an e-mail responding to allegations, Bob Beitcher, the fund’s CEO, said the campus’ security practices are consistent with those of other nursing homes. He called claims of any reduction in entertainment “completely untrue.”
“The Motion Picture Home is not a nursing home,” Beitcher wrote. “It is a thriving environment for elderly members of the entertainment community ... [who] continue to find it a haven. Nothing is secret.”
‘This Used to Be Like Disneyland’
Last April, Richard Stellar sat outside on the patio of The Pavilion, a long-term care wing that has since closed, alongside his mother, Mary Stellar, a 92-year-old resident who worked for 20 years for Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, the original producer of the James Bond films. Richard Stellar was reminiscing about the home’s earlier days.
“This used to be like Disneyland,” he said. “My mom would bring me here when she was fundraising; I met The Three Stooges here.”
Lil Rosenblum, 88, has visited the Motion Picture Home every single day for the past five years. Her husband, Irv, 83, suffers from dementia related to Parkinson’s disease, so she comes daily to tend to him. Irv spent 30 years as a film editor, and Lil fights back tears as she looks back.
“If anything crazy happens to Irv, something happens to me; I love that man,” she says, her delicate, wizened hands quivering as she puffs a cigarette.
Lil said that after the closure announcement and subsequent layoffs, Irv’s care suffered. “They just stopped walking him. They didn’t put in the book that you have to walk him every day for this man to continue walking.”
But not even compromised care could dissuade her from staying.
“I’m chaining myself to the bed; I’m chaining Irv. Call the police, call the papers — you’re not getting me out of here and you’re not getting Irv out of here,” she said. “I’m a big mouth; now I’ve never hurt anybody, but when it comes to Irv, I fight like crazy.”
Lil said the fund should have given them the opportunity to save the home. “We could raise the money — we could do something,” she said, pleading. Her theory as to why they didn’t: “My mother always had a saying: ‘When your belly is full, you don’t believe the other person is hungry.’ ”
Rosenblum is referring to the MPTF leadership, who are some of the most successful people in Hollywood. Sitting on the fund’s various boards and committees are DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, Steven Spielberg, Michael Douglas and Nora Ephron. Much of the public fury over the closure has been aimed at them — unfairly or not — and the grass-roots group Savings the Lives of Our Own, which is fighting to keep long-term care open, has organized public protests outside the fund’s major annual fundraisers.
In the months following the closure, it became clear that the decision to close long-term care had been a long time coming, at least since 2004 when the fund hired the Camden Group, an independent consulting firm, to analyze their operation. The study found that the high cost of labor, a reduction in reimbursements from state and federal entitlements, decreased investment income and a decline in philanthropic giving following the economic crisis foretold a massive budget shortfall over the next five years that would deplete the fund of its $68 million investment reserves.
But then the independent Hollywood news Web site TheWrap.com began to question the fund’s figures, reporting a month after the closure that MPTF’s numbers didn’t add up: Official IRS documents from 2006 and 2007 showed no net losses — on the contrary, they showed growth in the fund’s total assets.
“Some of the arguments they gave to justify at the outset that Medi-Cal was cutting their funds, that was never true,” nursing-home advocate Connors said. In fact, in February 2008, the State of California tried to reduce Medi-Cal reimbursements by 10 percent, but the attempt was blocked by a federal judge the following August. Connors added: “It appears from our perspective that one of the reasons their revenues were down was that they weren’t filling their beds — and they weren’t filling their beds because they were trying to go out of business. Basically, it looks like they tried to concoct a financial reason because they didn’t want to operate the home anymore.”
MPTF CEO Beitcher insists the fund has exhausted every option to help residents transition and has promised continuous follow-up care. “That is hardly abandonment,” he wrote via e-mail, adding that the fund has spent $18 million keeping long-term care open past the intended closure date.
Different Approach to Similar Problem
Molly Forrest, CEO and president of the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging, suggests there were other options: “Why don’t we take what is an unfortunate public relations issue for the Motion Picture Home and contrast it with the way the Jewish Home has handled the closure of buildings on our campus?”
In October 2008, three months before the Motion Picture Home announced its plan to close long-term care, the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging faced a similar crisis. Due to imminent changes in building codes and safety regulations, it was determined that four of its residential care/assisted living buildings would not meet the new standards and would have to close. But instead of evicting approximately 140 residents, the Jewish Home relocated them to other facilities on campus. To do so, it froze admissions to residential care facilities and paid the proprietary costs (such as plumbing, water etc.) of operating those four buildings until the transition was completed.