Three years after announcing a controversial plan to close its money-losing longterm and acute care facility, the nursing home at the Motion Picture and Television Fund’s Woodland Hills campus has defied the odds to remain open.
Thanks to a sustained grassroots campaign from Saving the Lives of Our Own, a collection of residents and their families, the MPTF board has abandoned plans to the shutter the home, pledging to keep the facility open if it can find a partner.
However, the nursing home is a shadow of what it once was. At a busy facility that once offered the “gold standard” in comprehensive care for the aged and frailest members of the Hollywood community, there are only a handful of residents who remain behind.
The number of patients has dwindled to 29 from the nearly 140 people who called the facility home when the closure was first announced, officials say. Some residents moved in the wake of the closure announcement, others succumbed to old age and disease.
“As the residents of the longterm care unit are dying, the mattresses are rolled up and the lights are turned out, but no one new is coming in,” Richard Stellar, a blogger for TheWrap and a member of Saving the Lives of Our Own, said. “It’s a war of attrition.”
The result is a kind of limbo. Long-term care has not closed, but with the MPTF management loath to admit new long-term patients until it secures a partner to share the burden of keeping the facility operating, the doors to the nursing home remain closed to new residents.
Administrators at the MPTF say that they have learned their lesson and that they are fully committed to keeping longterm care as part of their offerings.
“We heard the industry’s reaction and I think we responded to it,” MPTF Chief Executive Officer Bob Beitcher told TheWrap. “The unit is stable and we believe we are continuing to provide excellent care.”
Resident’s families still praise the nursing staff at the home, but say that residents have grown depressed as their friends die with no fresh faces joining their ranks. Where once the halls of the longterm care facility bustled with activity, resident’s family members say that the nursing home has become a bleak environment.
“It’s an empty place,” Maria-Flora Smoller, whose mother is a resident at the facility, told TheWrap. “The people that work there do the best they can, but the atmosphere has changed. My mom made great friends there, but sadly many have passed away and there are no new friends to be made because no one new is coming in to talk about the old times and what they have in common. She’s depressed because of it.”
Though Saving the Lives of Our Own members are quick to praise Beitcher for being more open to their concerns than his predecessor, the ousted Dr. David Tillman, there is a mounting frustration that the fate of the facility remains up in the air.
“It’s time for the MPTF to do more than pay lip service,” Melody Sherwood, a Saving the Lives of Our Own member whose mother is a longterm care resident, told TheWrap. “I think we’re hopefully frustrated. Even though the MPTF has said it is not going to close, which is wonderful and was our goal when we first formed Saving the Lives, not closing is not the same as being open.”
Last fall, a plan to keep the money-losing longterm care facility and acute care hospital open by transferring operations to Providence Health & Services was abandoned over financial concerns.
An alternative plan was supposed to be in place and announced by the end of last year, but that too has hit a speed-bump. A rumored scenario that would involve bringing on Kindred Healthcare to take over the Woodland Hills complex has reportedly stalled until Congress makes a decision about whether it will keep a moratorium on constructing new longterm care facilities in place.
Administrators are hesitant to provide a concrete timeframe for when a new partner will be announced, but they remain optimistic. With costs mounting, however, there is a real sense of urgency about finding a financially viable solution.
“Keeping open has been costly to us and it has sucked up financial resources,” Beitcher told TheWrap.
Beitcher estimated that keeping the facility up and running has cost between $25 million to $30 million over the past three years. When the plan’s administrators announced that the facility would have to close, they said that longterm care was losing $10 million annually.
For now members of the grassroots opposition to the closure plan are not ready to get out the signs and form picket lines, believing that for the time being at least, a sustainable solution can be reached by working in concert with the MPTF administration.
The two even partnered to protest cuts to Medi-Cal reimbursement rates that would mean as much as a 22 percent reduction in revenue for the campus’ long term care and Alzheimer’s patients. In a far cry from the often contentious relationship in the past, Saving the Lives of Our Own said it would join the MPTF’s court challenge as amicus plaintiffs.
“The intensity of the cause has dissipated a bit, because I think they see that we’re trying to do the right thing,” Beitcher said. “We’re working together on this to keep longterm care open and admit new residents, but if, God forbid, we get off track, I think they’ll let us know.”
Though the frustration has grown more pitched since the Providence deal collapsed, just getting the MPTF to back away from its closure plans involved a true David vs. Goliath effort that pitted the 350 members of Saving the Lives of Our Own against some of the entertainment industry’s most powerful figures.
By hosting rallies and fundraisers, taking out ads in the trade papers and enlisting the powerful law firm of Girardi + Keese, the group publicly pressured an MPTF board that included DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, Fox Filmed Entertainment Co-chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos and former MGM CEO Frank Mancuso and forced them to keep the nursing home open.
“No one thought that the longterm care center would survive, and it did,” Nancy Biederman, co-founder of Saving the Lives of Our Own, told TheWrap. “People thought that the MPTF had lost its way forever, and now it is on its way back to the right path. Though much has been lost, much abides. We regret the loss of life, the transfers of patients and the damage done to the MPTF, but we have also seen a renewed awareness of the essential role of the longterm care center in preserving the ideals of the MPTF, and the battle to save the longterm care center has gotten more people involved than we could ever have imagined when we started.”