After multiple coronavirus-related deaths at the Motion Picture & Television Fund’s nursing facility in Los Angeles, the outlook among residents and staff has brightened.
On March 31, the MPTF announced its first resident at the Woodland Hills facility tested positive for the virus. That number quickly grew to seven, before 64-year-old resident John Breier died on April 7 from COVID-19 complications. Five more residents died over the next two weeks, including cinematographer Allen Daviau, Allen Garfield, Ann Sullivan, Joel Rogosin and Leah Bernstein, Stanley Kramer’s executive secretary.
But the road to recovery has since progressed significantly at the home to 250 entertainment industry veterans and retirees. The MPTF said last week that 19 days had passed since someone has tested positive, attributing the decline to “hard-fought vigilance, met with both tears of joy and sadness.”
Bob Beitcher, president and CEO of the MPTF for the past decade, told Variety that as of Wednesday, there haven’t been any new cases in three weeks.
“We are encouraged, but it is uncertain what will happen since it’s a novel coronavirus,” Beitcher said. “We don’t know if there will be a second or third wave. I told the staff today that a new danger lurks around every corner.”
Residents have now been in quarantine for nine weeks, starting March 9. That meant gatherings were eliminated, and policies were put in place to keep contact between staffers and residents to a minimum. In addition, the MPTF instituted daily temperature checks for employees coming on to campus. Staff began delivering meals directly to the doors of residents, many of whom are doing their own cleaning.
The MPTF ramped up measures during the first week in April, after tests started to come back positive for coronavirus.
“At that point, we began assuming that everyone had COVID-19 and went to full gowns and N95 masks,” Beitcher said.
America’s elder care facilities have been especially hard hit during the pandemic, because residents at heightened risk due to their age, pre-existing conditions and close living conditions. Beitcher noted that the MPTF’s residents are living in single rooms, whereas a lot of nursing homes are three to a room.
“You can assume that if one person has COVID-19 in a room, the other two are likely to get it,” he said.
The MPTF’s isolation wing had as many at 17 residents at one point, but that number has declined to seven, according to Beitcher. Those recoveries are a cause for celebration.
“When people leave the isolation unit, there’s cheering and confetti from the staff and other residents as they go back to their rooms,” he said. “We’ve been through a dark tunnel together. The caveat is that this isn’t over.”
The organization has also been celebrating National Nurses Week this week on the campus, which has about 225 employees with about 100 nurses working each day. Among the MPTF nursing staff, 15 have tested positive and eight of those have recovered and are back to work.
Beitcher expressed frustration in mid-April over the lack of testing kits during the early stage of the pandemic. That has changed, thanks to two tranches of 500 test kits from the Los Angeles Mayor’s office and a point-of-care testing machine that can do 35 a day. Results are available in three to five days. During the past three weeks, more than 1,000 tests of staff and residents have been performed.
“One resident told me that she had to go to the doctor and leave the campus for the first time in nine weeks,” Beitcher said. “She said she was scared to death until she got back here. That’s what we’re trying to do — to make the residents feel protected.”
The MPTF was created in 1921 by Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, D.W. Griffith, Conrad Nagel, Milton Sills and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., to offer assistance and care to those of limited means in the motion picture industry. In addition to the Woodland Hills campus, it has six other primary care facilities in the Los Angeles area. Its slogan is “We take care of our own.”