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Showbiz’s help hotline

For decades, MPTF's mission has been to serve community

Ninety years after the Motion Picture Relief Fund was founded, Hollywood has changed beyond recognition, but the mandate and mission of that org — now known as the Motion Picture & Television Fund — remains the same: to meet the health and human services needs of those less fortunate in the entertainment community.

Under the leadership of CEO Bob Beitcher, the MPTF has refocused its charitable mission “of seeing a need and filling it,” as he puts it, and recently completed an industry-wide survey to this end.

“It went through all the studios, unions and guilds, and we got 10,000 responses — a huge number, which was very encouraging,” Beitcher says. “And for many of them, this was the first time they realized they’re eligible for many of the social and health services we offer.”

Such services are increasingly costly to provide, as Beitcher acknowledges.

“I think we were too health-service-centric for a while,” he adds.

However on Wednesday MPTF signed a non-binding letter of intent with Providence Health & Services California to continue providing long-term care services on its campus. Under the terms of the proposal, Providence would sign a long-term master lease agreement for the MPTF hospital facilities. State licenses for the 250-bed hospital would be transferred to nearby Providence Tarzana Medical Center.

While the facility never actually closed, it hasn’t admitted any new residents. “I came in a year ago to find a solution to all this,” he says.

The pact with Providence would provide continuity for current long-term care residents and a continuum of care for 180 campus residents in independent and assisted living, including long-term care and dementia care unit Harry’s Haven.

Beitcher, who’s spearheading the move to embrace new technology, such as the Computer Assisted Social Engagement program, knows the central role healthcare plays, and outlines two other new services; A Bridge to Health and Health Wheels.

“The former focuses on the uninsured and underinsured members of the industry, and will provide affordable, low-cost health care,” he says. “The latter is a mobile health center, which will allow us to bring our services to our members, particularly the mobility challenged ones.”

Other key health services include MPTF’s Rebuilding Together, Age Well and Palliative Care programs. The latter has helped many families cope with terminal illness, including that of actor Travis Davis who died of stomach cancer on Oct. 12, 2009. “After it was diagnosed as terminal, we really needed help,” recalls his mother, Sharyl Davis, who found the program on the Internet.

“It was devastating and overwhelming, as he was so young — just 40 when he died — and we had two children,” says his widow, Leryn Davis. “We met with their team, which included the program leader and main nurse Lesli Leder and Pastor Bob, in September, and right away they came up with a care plan for Travis.”

Davis was able to die peacefully at home, “and we’re still in touch with them,” says Sharyl. Adds Leryn, “Until you find yourself in this situation, you can’t imagine what sort of help you need, and their staff couldn’t have been more loving and kind in a very difficult situation.”

There are other stories of care. When retired thesp David Hooks began to suffer from dementia, MPTF’s Elder Connection social worker Lorna Kahn met with his partner, Yana. “He was overwhelmed by the situation, so I helped get David services from the MPTF, including medication co-payments and a caregiver at their apartment,” she reports. “And after David passed in 2008, Yana, who’s gay and from Japan, didn’t know how to handle the situation, and we were able to help him navigate through a very difficult time.”

MPTF’s Saban Center offers its popular Pool Buddy program. Franklin Melton, a retired DGA member and Saban Center member, volunteered on day one of the program.

“I was assigned to Gil Greene, a retired film editor and MPTF resident who’d had a stroke,” he recalls. “His eyesight was almost nil and his hearing was going, and he could barely float the first time out. But within two months we had him swimming laps, and I got as much out of it as he did.”

Channel 22, MPTF’s inhouse television station, recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. “And has really taken off in the past five years,” reports Ken Scherer, CEO, MPTF Foundation. “It’s funded by Mel Shavelson’s estate, whose philosophy was ‘creativity doesn’t end at 65,’ and it’s an inter-generational operation, as we have young volunteers from various film programs. But the main focus is on the residents who want to stay creative, such as Tony Lawrence, who wrote several movies for Elvis Presley and the ‘Outer Limits’ show. He lost his wife last year, and was quite down until he got involved with Channel 22.”

Lawrence admits, “It’s been a great outlet for me, a lifesaver in a way. I’ve just written a musical, and Harold Gould and I did this show, ‘Electric Voices,’ which they still run.”

Scherer goes on to note, “Channel 22 has really rallied the whole campus in a way. It’s a 24/7 operation, and we also run old movies. But the highlights are always the residents’ productions and interviews where they tell their stories.”

He cites those of Ruthie Thompson, a 100-year-old ex-Disney employee “who’s now learning Final Cut Pro with a 24-year-old editor,” and Milt Hoffman, a TV producer who’s become the inhouse Channel 22 producer, “which has rejuvenated him.”

Producer Hawk Koch, a longtime MPTF associate, helps run the case committee, calling it “one of the most important functions of the fund, because anyone in the industry can apply to see if they’re eligible for residency or financial aid, and we get to see and hear the stories of so many people who may be struggling, or looking for somewhere to spend the rest of their life.”

During the writers’ strike, many needed financial assistance right away, he says, “and we were there for them.”

Koch goes on to stress, “It’s a fund, not just a home, and it’s all-inclusive. It’s there to help everyone.”

Looking ahead, Beitcher references Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you” line.

“We exist to help the industry take care of its own, but we need the industry to help and participate in the execution of that mission,” he says.

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