Tension escalated at the Motion Picture & Television Fund Home on Tuesday after talks broke down between the attorneys for the home and families affected by the imminent closure of its long-term care facility.
After being released to TheWrap, a letter went out to the families at the home indicating that the talks had ended and that plans to close the facility must move ahead. (Full letter below.)
"We have tried to reach a mutually acceptable solution with the lawyers who are representing many of you in connection with the closure," the letter said. "We must move forward with phasing out the facility."
But the move further enraged families whose elderly parents are among the remaining 80 or so families that have yet to move.
They vowed to sue the home, and said they would not leave voluntarily.
Asked if he believed there would be a lawsuit, anti-closure activist Richard Stellar told TheWrap, "Absolutely. We don’t want one. We’re being pushed into a corner… At the end of the day a lawsuit will be very painful. But we’re prepared for this."
Late on Tuesday, the grass-roots coalition called Saving The Lives Of Our Own put out a news release protesting the MPTF letter, and saying they would not leave the facility of their own accord. (Release posted below.)
“When they carry me out of my home in a coffin, that’s when I’ll leave here,” said Larry Jennings, a 73-year-old resident and electrician, member of IATSE Local 40.
Melody Sherwood, whose mother, Kay Meyer, is a resident of the facility, said, "The more the MPTF tries to defend its indefensible position, the more public outrage is generated in support of the 80 frail, elderly residents who are being forced out of their homes. Families will not be fooled into ‘voluntarily’ relocating their loved ones."
But MPTF officials said they had tried to negotiate and now could do nothing further.
"We have done everything," Ken Scherer, CEO of the MPTF, told TheWrap. "We’ve done our research, and we feel they do not have legal case." (See full one-on-one with Ken Scherer.)
The rising tension raised the ugly prospect of a forced eviction by the MPTF of sick, elderly residents who could be required to leave the facility by Thanksgiving.
In January, the MPTF announced that it was closing the long-term care facility and hospital as a measure to stave off bankruptcy.
The non-profit organization, established by Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin 87 years ago, said at the time that it was losing $10 million a year and risked depleting its endowment within a few years if it did not stop the financial losses.
But the announcement came without warning, and has turned into what can only be considered a public relations nightmare for the MPTF.
An investigation done by TheWrap in February found that organization’s most recent tax returns filed with the Internal Revenue Service in November 2008 show no $10 million losses, or any losses at all.
The fund’s assets — described in one press release as “draining… at an alarming rate” — actually increased in 2006 and 2007, the last year for which figures are available.
David Tillman, President and CEO of the MPTF, said those years represent a fiscal anomaly.
"2007 was an extraordinary year for us because of investment returns above our average," he told TheWrap. "We also got two gifts totaling $15 million. Without that, we would have been in a loss position."
Tillman would not answer questions about claims he mismanaged the facility.
The MPTF acknowledged in February that it had done a poor job of explaining the reasons why it is closing the long-term care facility and hospital at its Woodland Hills retirement home, but insisted it had no choice in a difficult economic climate.
Jeffrey Katzenberg, the Dreamworks Animation chief who chairs the MPTF Foundation board, said of the organization’s public communications over the past three weeks: “We give ourselves a failing grade. This has not been communicated well.”
Amy Kaufman and Sharon Waxman contributed to this report.
Additional Wrap stories:
The full letter:
Dear Patients and Families,
In our efforts to keep you abreast of developments regarding the impending closure of the long-term care facility and hospital, I am writing to give you an update. I am also writing to reiterate our commitment to working with you throughout the transition process and after you or your family member leaves the campus.
Since January when we announced our difficult decision to close the long term care facility and hospital by the end of the year, it has been our goal to help you identify appropriate options for relocation and to work with you to make the transition as comfortable as possible. We hoped that by giving our residents many months to make plans that most, if not all of you would be far along in the process by now.
We have tried to reach a mutually acceptable solution with the lawyers who are representing many of you in connection with the closure. Our outside counsel has been working with them to craft a solution that would address your transfer and relocation concerns. To that end, the parties retained a former associate California Supreme Court Justice to mediate a settlement. Regrettably, those talks have not been successful and so I urge you to move forward with your transition plans.
We must move forward with phasing out the facility and we want to remind you once again of the resources and assistance we are providing, and to urge you to take full advantage of them.
We have identified 22 high quality community nursing facilities that were screened by MPTF staff to ensure that they could and would support our residents and keep them connected to MPTF health and, or social services via our Community Care teams, if they desire. A list of these facilities is available from your social worker.
We understand that you and your family may have concerns and questions about how the transfer and relocation process actually works. In addition to talking to your social worker about the steps you need to take, we can put you in touch with the Community Care Team. They can give you first hand accounts about how MPTF staff including Dr. Humayun and Linda Healy have worked with them through the process, and in a number of cases continue to provide care where desired.
We are deeply saddened by the fact that we have to close the long term care facility. Our long term care residents will always be important members of the MPTF community and we hope you will allow us to continue serving you after you relocate.
In closing, I urge you once again to allow us to help you identify as many options for relocation as possible and to make the transition as comfortable as possible.
David Tillman, MD
President / CEO
news release from Saving the Lives of Our Own:
Los Angeles—In reaction to a “pre-eviction” notice released by the Motion Picture Television Fund today, residents of the MPTF long-term care facility and their families rejected the letter as an example of continued strong-arm tactics by the Fund and its administrators. In an interview, the MPTF’s Ken Scherer insists the facility will be closed by the Thanksgiving holiday.
The letter was released to the media before being delivered to the residents and their families, in the presence of security guards, in a further attempt to intimidate and frighten the elderly out of the Home they were promised would be there for them until the end of their days.
Lynn Medford, whose husband Don, 91, is a director and long-time resident of the Home says, “They gave us a letter already stating what was stated before. It’s the easy way out for them in lieu of an eviction letter. Nothing’s new.”
"The more the MPTF tries to defend its indefensible position, the more public outrage is generated in support of the 80 frail, elderly residents who are being forced out of their homes. Dr. Tillman’s letter is a blatant attempt to circumvent and deprive the elderly, including my mother, of their rights. Families will not be fooled into ‘voluntarily’ relocating their loved ones," insists Melody Sherwood, whose mother Kay Meyer, 93, is a resident of the facility.
“When they carry me out of my home in a coffin, that’s when I’ll leave here,” states Larry Jennings, a 73-year-old resident and electrician, member of IATSE Local 40.
Saving the Lives of Our Own, representing over 4000 Entertainment Industry professionals and members of the community concerned about the MPTF long-term care facility closure, is committed to keeping this historic and vital Hollywood facility open.
We are requesting:
· An immediate reversal of the decision to close the long-term care facility in acknowledgment of the commitment made to these seniors and their families
· A dedicated fundraising campaign for the purpose of keeping the facility open
· Financial transparency in the form of a comprehensive and independent audit of the MTPF and all its related entities.