And Now There Are 58 Still Alive: Celebrities meet with MPTF
BY ROBERT W. WELKOS
Actors Renee Taylor and her husband, Joe Bologna, along with actors Elliott Gould, Connie Stevens and singer Nancy Sinatra, met with officials of the Motion Picture & Television Fund this week in hopes of delaying the fund’s controversial decision to close its Long-Term Care unit and acute-care hospital in Woodland Hills. But it remains uncertain if the fund’s board will go along.
The fund’s interim CEO Bob Beitcher, who attended the face-to-face meeting along with the MPTF Foundation’s CEO Ken Sherer, told the celebrities that Beitcher would forward their request to the MPTF board of directors, which meets in a few weeks, but gave no assurances that the facility would remain open for a year or longer.
“There was no agreement that came out of the meeting,” said Steve Honig, spokesperson for the fund. “Bob Beitcher said he would take their request and put it in front of the board for consideration.”
But Taylor and Bologna came away cautiously elated by the informal gathering and spoke optimistically that they hope the two sides keep talking.
Taylor went so far as to say: “They made a commitment to keep the Long-Term Care (and) hospital open for a year.”
That opinion was shot down by Honig, who made it clear that Beitcher was acting only as a messenger.
“He is acting as a messenger and is saying to the board, ‘This is what they are wanting to do’ and putting it on the table. It’s no reflection on Bob’s feelings one way or another.”
“It was actually a worthwhile meeting,” Bologna told HollywoodNews.com. “We were all concerned about one thing: everybody loves the home.”
He said they want the board to address a two-step process: “Whether we can keep that Long-Term Care unit open while (the facility’s 58 remaining residents are there) and then the real daunting task is keeping (it) open in perpetuity.”
Taylor and Bologna said they were told by the fund officials that it takes about $10 million a year to operate the Long-Term Care unit and hospital.
“We said we want to look at the figures,” Taylor said.
But Honig said the books have been open for public inspection for some time. In a phone interview last week, Beitcher told HollywoodNews.com that the group protesting the closure, Saving the Lives of Our Own, has already examined the books and has not disputed the figures.
Still, should the board ever delay the closure and give the group time to raise funds, it would be a daunting task.
The announcement in January of 2009 that the fund plans to close that portion of its decades-old Woodland Hills complex has proven to be a public relations nightmare for the fund.
Citing soaring costs of running the facility and a recessionary economy, the fund disputed allegations made by protesters that the care it dispenses had been adversely impacted, but that was little solace for those residents and their families who would be forced to leave.
Beitcher said that while the fund doesn’t have a target date of closing the hospital and long-term care facility, the staff will continue to work with the remaining 58 residents to find them other places to live.
He noted that the oldest resident, 109-year-old Dorothy Luff, passed away last week.
“She had been in our facility for over 10 years,” he said. “She had a wonderful life with us but had been in declining health. Someone told me she had been an actress in silent films.”
Last month, Saving the Lives of Our Own sent an open letter to MPTF Board Chairman Frank Mancuso and board members Joseph A. Fischer and fund Interim CEO Beitcher calling for a new board “whose members recognize their duty to uphold the trust placed in their hands, and who acknowledge their responsibility to leave no stone unturned to preserve what is morally and ethically right.”
“It was the board’s abject failure to insist that administrators uphold MPTF’s historic commitment to our industry and adhere to its founding principles that created the ‘mess’ your are struggling to clean up. Your ‘mess’ is the result of years of mismanagement, poor judgment, biased expert advice, and a stubborn refusal to admit your own fundamental mistakes.”
Taylor and Bologna have become outspoken critics of the proposed closure. They recently hosted an auction of celebrity memorabilia at their home which raised more than $30,000 to help defray medical costs and keep the facility open. Among the items auctioned were vintage bathing suits from Esther Williams, paintings by Phyllis Diller and Frank Sinatra neckties donated by the late singer’s daughter, Nancy.
Taylor wanted to personally present the check to Beitcher at Monday’s gathering in her house but said they were told the board would have to approve acceptance of the check.
Taylor and Bologna said they got involved because like others in Hollywood they were shocked when they heard the news last year that the facility would shut down.
“I don’t have anybody (living at the home),” Taylor told HollywoodNews.com. “I just went there and we sang Christmas carols and I was just shocked (at what I saw). I think they want to close the hospital and turn it into condominiums for ‘energetic’ seniors, not people (who need) the hospital.”
Taylor said film and television industry workers “turned over their money” to the fund believing that when they grew frail and elderly, they would have a place to stay and be cared for the rest of their life, but the fund isn’t honoring the promise it made to them.
But Beitcher explained to HollywoodNews.com: “The contract that they sign when they come to the Long-Term Care unit is clear; we have the right and ability to shut it down.”
“We are losing roughly $1 million a month on the combination of the Long-Term Care facility and the hospital,” he said. “The hospital in the last week or two had an average census of one or two patients. Running a full hospital with one or two patients “is not where it should be”
Even if the board should put off closing the facility until year’s end, could Saving the Lives of Our Own raise the funds needed to keep it open year after year?
In a town where movie stars, producers and studio chiefs earn millions, it is possible. A-list stars recently turned out for a telethon that raised millions for earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
Melody Sherwood, who was executive secretary to the late MCA mogul Lew Wasserman for 30 years and is now an outspoken critic of plans to close the fund’s long-term care facility and hospital, admitted she is concerned that the burden of raising millions of dollars to keep the facility open could shift to the protesters.
“Yes, the responsibility would be on their backs to raise that money in the industry,” she said, but “at least it’s a beginning.”
Sherwood, who’s 94-year-old mother, Kay Meyer, has lived in the unit for five years, said she has no idea what she would do with her mother if the facility closed down.
“I no longer live in Los Angeles,” Sherwood said. “I live in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I’m not in a position to drop in every day or every other day to make sure my mother is looked after properly.”
Sherwood said she has peace of mind knowing that her mother is being cared for at the Woodland Hills facility, but if she had to transfer her to New Mexico, it could be difficult.
“It’s a small town,” Sherwood said of Santa Fe. “(My mother) doesn’t know anybody up there. She doesn’t know the doctors. I couldn’t get her on an airplane. I don’t think she is in a position to travel. She is in a wheelchair. She needs a special machine to get her out of the wheelchair and into bed. Her legs are weak now. She needs care to do everything. She can barely use a knife and fork to cut her food.”
Sherwood said one benefit of entertainment industry people living at the facility is that they come from the shared background of working in Hollywood. “The woman next door (my mother) is 104 (years old),” Sherwood said. “My mother’s roommate is 96.”
Sherwood said residents of the Long-Term Care unit pay $10,500 a month to live there. People in other facilities on the fund’s complex pay less. “When you no longer have funds to pay that, that is when Medi-Cal steps in and pays for your care. Some people have private insurance policies to cover this. You turn over any funds you have to a trust account that the Motion Picture fund keeps for you.”
Sherwood said Wasserman would be outraged if he were still alive and witnessed the flap over closing the Wasserman Campus’ Long-Term Care unit and hospital.
“It was his one and only charity he’s ever allowed to use his name,” she said. “He never wanted things named after him. His name was literally the most trusted name in Hollywood. Ninety-nine percent of his legend was, if you have a problem you go to Lew Wasserman and he’ll solve it and make sure you come to a fair agreement. They trusted his handshake more than fancy lawyers in Hollywood.”
Now, with what is happening, she believes Wasserman would view the proposed closure as a “disgrace and he would be outraged.”