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The administrator of the Motion Picture & Television Fund’s troubled retirement home in Woodland Hills commands a salary well in excess of half a million dollars a year, including a 20 per cent pay raise he was awarded shortly before the home announced that in order to avert bankruptcy, it was kicking out more than 100 infirm residents.
The salary figures for Dr. David Tillman, the MPTF’s chief executive, and other top officials are not widely known among the health-care workers and residents’ families now protesting the decision to shutter the MPTF’s long-term care facility and hospital before the end of the 2009.
They are, however, publicly available via the MPTF’s tax filings, and reveal numbers several times higher than is normal in the world of non-profit retirement homes – not to mention higher than the cap President Obama placed last week on the salaries of corporate chief executives receiving federal bailout money.
Tillman earned $502,200 in 2006 – when, according to MPTF officials, if not according to their own audited accounts, the home was already aware of a looming financial crisis. That salary figure then ballooned to $596,957 in 2007, the last year for which figures are available.
The MPTF’s chief financial officer, Frank Guarrera, saw his pay jump from $359,162 in 2006 to $411,153 in 2007. Taken together, the two men earned well over $1 million.
“That’s absolutely exorbitant,” said nursing-home expert Betsy Hite of the California Association of Health Facilities. “The average nursing home administrator makes maybe $100,000. This is clearly out of the norm. People who typically care for the elderly do it because of a calling in their heart, not a calling to the bank.”
The MPTF’s own audited accounts show that total salaries and related expenses came to a staggering $60.7 million in 2007, up from $58.9 million in 2006. Although exact employee numbers are not available – the fund did not respond to requests for the figures – the United Healthcare Workers union represents 573 full- and part-time workers at the home. Assuming the fund employs another 100-200 people, that means the average annual income comes to somewhere in the $80-$90,000 range.
That kind of money is not going to licensed nurses, who earn about $25.50 an hour plus another $9 an hour in benefits, according to California HealthCare Foundation figures. Nursing assistants earn around $17.50 an hour.
One financial expert unconnected to the home, who did not wish to be named, commented: “How on earth can they justify $60 million per year in salaries? That’s insanely high. They’re not an investment bank, they’re a retirement home.”
The executive salary figures have provoked astonishment among residents’ families now campaigning to keep the long-term care facility open, and among United Healthcare Workers officials worried about the announced lay-off of an estimated 240 staff at the home.
The figures are also likely to raise eyebrows in the wider Hollywood community, since they represent a signficant portion of the charity funds raised, say, at Jeffrey Katzenberg’s annual pre-Oscar Night Before gala, which hauled in more than $6 million in each of the past two years, or at any of the other benefits held for the home and its residents.
“I think it’s obscene when highly paid administrators are crying the blues about lack of funding to keep infirm, elderly residents in place,” said Richard Stellar, an activist whose 91-year-old mother is one of the long-term care patient targeted for eviction. “I’m also disappointed that Dr. Tillman – a doctor -- is doing the bidding of a board that has put a price on the heads of these people.”
The elevated salaries are just one piece of a growing puzzle about the MPTF and the financial crunch it says has motivated the closures. As TheWrap reported yesterday, the MPTF’s own accounting figures and tax returns show no sign of the $10 million losses mentioned in the fund’s press releases and public statements. While the MPTF says its reimbursements from Medicaid and MediCal have been going down, its tax returns show that receipts from the government in fact increased in both 2006 and 2007.
Even before TheWrap revealed those figures, the UHW and residents’ families complained they had not received the proper explanation they feel they were owed – particularly since the closure announcement came completely out of the blue.
“There’s no transparency,” Stellar said. “The residents are people who have given up pensions, social security payments and so on to get into the home. They all have a financial stake in the Motion Picture home, yet they got no report from the board that the fund was in trouble.”
News of the closures has created at least a temporary desire in many people to open their pocketbooks if it can still make a difference, but it is far from clear whether the MPTF is welcoming their initiatives. Union officials said they had heard stories of people offering money in the past few weeks specifically to the long-term care facility, only to be told that they have to contribute to the general fund instead.
Saratoga Ballantine, co-director of a forthcoming documentary about residents of the MPTF home entitled Troupers, said she felt sure Hollywood would rally to the cause if asked. “Someone should take a big ad out in Variety,” she said, “and appeal to those $20 million-a-movie people, people who have the money, to save their own. It’s always been about actors coming forward to save their own.”
Certainly, plenty of prominent actors, writers and directors are expressing their displeasure. Elliott Gould, an actor who cares passionately about the health and retirement benefits offered by the Screen Actors Guild and other Hollywood unions, told TheWrap he found the news “sad, depressing, ominous and disappointing, to say the least”.
“The home was a shining beacon of an accomplishment that is certainly being eliminated and taken away from us,” Gould said.
Activists are planning a candlelight vigil outside the home Wednesday night, starting at 5 p.m.
Residents themselves have been shy to speak out and highly reluctant to invite reporters to visit them on the campus. “What can we do?” retired actress and MPTF resident Connie Sawyer said by telephone. “It’s all over... It’s gone. There is no point in you coming out here.”
According to Stellar, fear is now rampant, even among those in independent housing who are still fit and healthy. “People are scared shitless,” he said. “Some of them think people are going to come for them in the middle of the night. At that age, folks are very fearful about what small time they have left on the planet.
“They had one comfort left – that they are in a place where they can live out their days. That’s now been taken away from them.”