MPTF drama to continue into 2010

Fund determined to close facilities despite resistance

The drama over closing the Motion Picture & Television Fund’s longterm care facility and acute-care hospital will continue well into 2010.

Although the fund declared nearly a year ago it would shutter the operations by the end of this year, it will remain open for a little while longer. The MPTF asserts that it’s become more difficult than anticipated to find acceptable beds outside the facility.

The resident population has declined by over half since the Jan. 14 announcement, but 64 patients remain, according to spokeswoman Ellen Davis.

Things are moving forward as beds become available,” she said. “We continue working with families and patients to relocate them but it is taking longer than expected. It’s hard to predict how long it will take.”

However, the MPTF is facing considerable resistance from the grassroots group Saving the Lives of Our Own, which plans to keep fighting the closures.

“We’re still actively committed to keeping the facility open,” said Andrew Suser, a principal with the group. “The people who live there aren’t going anywhere, despite tons of pressure and a diminution of services.”

MPTF execs have emphasized that the fund will continue to operate its independent and assisted-care facilities in Woodland Hills and half a dozen health centers in the Los Angeles area, along with modernizing the Woodland Hills campus and expanding its medical and social services for industry retirees.

Fund execs have repeatedly said that the state of the economy and rising cost of health care has left them with no alternative about the closures. The two facilities have been operating at an annual fund-ing deficit of about $10 million, a gap that was projected to increase considerably in the coming years.

The MPTF said it’s been making up the deficit with investment reserves, but if it continues to subsidize the units, the fund would likely exhaust available reserves within five years.

The long-term care unit is losing nearly $1 million a month but we will keep it open as long as there are patients there,” Davis said. “The Hollywood community continues to be very supportive in donations but that’s not going to mitigate the problem.”

Since the first announcement of the intended closure last January, there have been multiple protests asserting that the MPTF is violating its mission of “taking care of our own” within the entertainment industry and the pledge to residents that they’d spend the rest of their lives at the Woodland Hills campus. Saving the Lives of Our Own has engaged the law firm Girardi & Keese to represent the interests of the residents. The group’s negotiations with the MPTF broke down last August, prompting the fund to send a letter to the 78 remaining patients that reiterated its commitment to shuttering the facilities by year’s end.

I think the MPTF has come to understand that if they force people to leave, we are going to sue them,” said James O’Callahan of Girardi & Keese. “We think we have strong grounds.”

Richard Stellar, a leader of Saving the Lives of Our Own, asserts that the residents and their families are mostly united in their refusal to leave. His 92-year-old mother, a onetime MGM secretary, has been a resident for the past four years.

The reason why patients haven’t moved is because the families are refusing to move them into substandard facilities,” Stellar told Daily Variety. “Those who have moved have drunk the Kool Aid and don’t want to be a part of the lawsuit.”

Stellar has repeatedly accused MPTF president-CEO David Tillman of mismanagement and insensitivity. He’s insisted the MPTF long-term facility and acute-care hospital could be profitable if operated at full capacity. “I don’t believe their financial reports,” Stellar added.

When the MPTF announced plans to close the facilities, it said it would lay off about 290 employees. Davis said Tuesday that 53 jobs were eliminated this year, with another 240 targeted for 2010.

The fallout from the original announcement about the closures prompted MPTF Foundation board chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg to hold a news conference a month later, to take the blame over how the decision was communicated to the biz.

We give ourselves a failing grade,” said Katzenberg at the time (Daily Variety, Feb. 12).

Katzenberg has said that a trio of factors forced the MPTF’s decision: a 10% decrease in Medi-Cal payments, a decline in the value of the fund’s investments and a lower level of donations to the home.

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