Mumbling From the Motion Picture Home

The Motion Picture and Television Fund is still playing defense over its decision to close its Woodland Hills long-term nursing home and hospital. The media coverage continues to be negative, the public protests grow ever noisier and relatives of the residents now facing removal are about to file a lawsuit to try to block the closure altogether.

TheWrap is still very much on the case and will have another ground-breaking story on the closures shortly. Having established that the initial reasons given for the closures did not square with the Fund’s own official figures, we’re busy figuring out exactly what did happen. In the meantime, a couple of interesting developments:

First, the news that last Saturday’s star-studded pre-Oscar Night Before charity gala at the Beverly Hills Hotel raised a more than respectable $5.5 million for the Fund — only very modestly lower than in 2008.

This is significant because Jeffrey Katzenberg, the head of the MPTF Foundation and master of ceremonies at the gala, identified an anticipated sharp drop-off in charitable giving as part of the “triple storm” of financial factors that, in his view, made the closures inevitable.

MPTF officials had previously estimated they would raise just $4 million on the biggest charity night of their year, down from $6 million last year and a record-breaking $7.5 million in 2007. The outpouring of generosity, from an A-list invite list including Brangelina, Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Douglas, Jennifer Aniston, Steven Spielberg, Will Smith and Clint Eastwood, suggests there may, after all, be a way of appealing to the entertainment community and raising enough money to keep the home and hospital open for a while longer.

Not that Katzenberg or anyone else at the MPTF is budging from the position that the closures are inevitable. Katzenberg — with Michael Douglas providing star power to help shore up the PR damage-control effort — took time away from the gala to repeat his well-worn talking points to selected journalists (including me).

My favorite line from the encounter came when Katzenberg took umbrage at the accusation that he and the Fund were abandoning the roughly 130 home residents who had paid dues to the MPTF all their working lives and had entered the long-term care facility in the expectation that they could die there in peace.

“The last thing in the world we have done is walk away from these people,” he said. Right.

The second development concerns the unusually high death rate among long-term care residents since the announcement of the closures in mid-January. Up to now, the best guess of the residents’ relatives and nursing staff was that seven people had died in the wake of the announcement. Today, though, MPTF spokesman Steve Honig told me the figure now stood at 10. Another 10 residents, he said, had already moved to other nursing facilities, leaving about 115 people still in place.

The clarification is welcome, because MPTF press releases and official statements have up to now referred to “100 people” — much to the annoyance of the protesters who accuse Katzenberg and company of lowballing on purpose.

Not that the protesters are now placated – they’ve all but accused the MPTF of responsibility for the quicker death rate, which they say is well above the norm of about two deaths a month.