What a difference two years makes.
After serving notice on Jan. 14, 2009, that the Motion Picture & Television Fund intended to shut down its long-term care facility and inpatient hospital by mid-year and displace its 138 residents, the pace of closure at the Hollywood home for the aged is at a standstill.
For the time being, at least, the plans to shutter the Woodland Hills facility is trapped in a permanent holding pattern, with 37 patients still in residence.
But preventing the fund from making good on its threats to end the money-losing hospital required a years-long grassroots effort, pitting residents and their families against Hollywood moguls and board members such as Jeffrey Katzenberg.
“Everyone said it was not possible. That we could not sway these guys, but that hasn’t been the case,” Richard Stellar, whose late mother was a long-term resident, told TheWrap. “What we have done can be a template for other industries to take care of their own. The world can look at the entertainment industry as place where rank and file members rose up and demanded that this promise be kept.”
In the process, the controversy over the move to close the long term care facility has become a public relations fiasco for the MPTF, drawing countless embarrassing headlines (and an award-winning serious of articles in TheWrap). Not to mention criticism from leading industry figures such as George Clooney and Screen Actors Guild President Ken Howard.
Moreover, despite the pledge to close the hospital within six months of sending out a notice to residents and their families, the nursing home not only remains open, but the facility continues to bleed money at a rate of roughly $10 million a year.
On the anniversary of the controversial announcement, the tone and substance of that initial letter to residents and their families still smarts.
"MPTF is justifiably proud of its acute care hospital and its Long Term Care unit, the service we provide, and the wonderful staff who serve our patients. Unfortunately, we have no option but to close the service during the coming year," the form letter from then-CEO Dr. David Tillman reads.
That abruptness of the note and a chaotic town-hall meeting shortly thereafter was the first in a series of missteps from the MPTF leadership. So poorly was the delicate situation handled, that even current MPTF CEO Bob Beitcher would later bluntly admit "we f—ed up."
Feeling that the MPTF board was deaf to their concerns and with their backs against the wall, the residents' families got organized and retained the services of the powerful lawfirm in Girardi + Keese.
For the most part, it worked. Still, many members of the activist group Saving the Lives of Our Own, which has led the charge against closure, feel that keeping the home open is only a limited victory.
The organization says it won’t stop until the MPTF not only pledges to provide a home for current residents, but remains committed to offering care to elderly members of the entertainment community in perpetuity.
“In the short term it is clear that nobody is going to be evicted or told they have to leave. But we want to ensure the long term preservation of this service, not just for our families and loved ones, but we want to make sure that the entire industry isn’t deprived of it,” Dean Butler, a member of the group, told TheWrap.
However, making those ambitions a reality will be an uphill climb. There are reports that the MPTF is in negotiations to partner with Providence Health & Services and UCLA Health System to keep the facility open. In that scenario, the hospital chains would take over operations of the long-term care home.
But the plan that has residents and their families most enthused is a proposal to construct a new 250-bed facility named the ACT home. It would be constructed on 17 acres of the MPTF’s land, and is the brainchild of Robert Hunter, a former PepsiCo. executive, and his wife, actress Diane Ladd. However, very little fundraising has taken place.
For its part, the MPTF is keeping mum about its plans.
"True to its mission, MPTF continues to provide full services to the 37 residents remaining in Long Term Care as we explore alternative solutions for providing these services in the future,” MPTF CEO Bob Beitcher said in a statement.
Though the battle has reached an impasse, it’s come at great cost. Scores of layoffs have resulted in the departure of dozens of nurses and caretakers and led to ongoing criticism that the hospital is dangerously understaffed.
Even those who helped orchestrate the plans to close the facility have not been immune to the fallout. After all, it was roughly a year ago that Tillman, the MPTF CEO who helped craft the plan, was forced to resign after damaging reports that he had received a pay hike as the hospital teetered into insolvency. While pushing for the layoff of over 200 staffers, Tillman’s own compensation climbed to $932,000, according to a 2008 tax return.
Tillman’s exit and the arrival of Beitcher, a former president of Panavision and board member, as CEO, represented an easing of tensions between the MPTF and the activists.
“We thought Beitcher was going to be another Tillman. As it turned out he listens and he has a heart,” Stellar said.
Still old resentments remain, only to be triggered anew by incidents like the suspicious death of 89-year old resident Carrie DeLay last October. Residents and their families were outraged after DeLay was found injured at the bottom of a staircase at the long-term care facility after suffering a fall. She died a week later.
Likewise, though none of the current residents seem in danger of being forcibly removed, charting a way forward, either by embracing the ACT facility or finding a partner, will likely lead to fresh disagreements.
But on this day, those who have devoted the better part of two years to successfully keeping the home open, remain more reflective than triumphant.
“I'm glad we're still taking care of those who remain, sad about those who left and those who died amid the alien corn,” Nancy Biederman, co-founder of Saving the Lives of Our Own, told TheWrap.