Motion picture fund nursing home to admit new residents
Three years after a controversial decision to close Hollywood's best known nursing home, the Motion Picture & Television Fund has reversed course and said it would immediately begin admitting new residents to the Woodland Hills facility.
The decision marks a victory for residents and their families who waged a highly public campaign to fight the fund's decision in January 2009. Many residents accused the charity of losing sight of its mission to take care of entertainment industry workers and refused to leave, hiring an attorney to block evictions.
At the time, the fund's board members said they had no choice because its facilities were losing millions of dollars and threatening the charity with bankruptcy. On Wednesday, however, MPTF officials said the nursing home's finances had improved under new management, enough at least to justify admitting residents.
The board tapped former Panavision Chief Executive Bob Beitcher this summer to replace David Tillman, who resigned as head of the fund in February 2010 after bitter clashes with residents over his handling of the planned closure.
"I would give Bob Beitcher and his management team really a lot of credit for coming in and getting our house back in order, which it needed,'' said Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive of DreamWorks Animation and MPTF Chairman. "The results of it are that we can very comfortably expand our capacity."
The nursing home has only 29 of the more than 130 residents who lived there in January 2009. The fund will expand to at least 40 beds for now, with priority given to former residents who moved to other facilities. The nursing home is part of a larger retirement community in Woodland Hills operated by the fund.
"This will be a pivotal moment for current long-term care residents and their families, other campus residents and staff,'' Beitcher said. "It will restore the continuum of care on campus everyone has been hoping for."
Nancy Biederman, founder of the Saving the Lives of Our Own group, which fought the nursing home closure, said: "We applaud the MPTF on its stewardship and vision, and thank all who worked together to uphold the Fund's historic mission and move it forward.... That the MPTF has strengthened its commitment by embracing Long Term Care on campus is a victory for everyone."
The fund has been cutting costs by streamlining operations. The nursing home will operate on one floor instead of two, and last week the fund laid off 18 workers.
Fund officials also have spent months negotiating a deal with Kindred Healthcare Inc. of Louisville, Ky. Under a proposed deal, Kindred would invest $10 million to remodel an existing hospital building and would lease hospital and rehabilitation beds from the fund. That would give much-needed revenue to the charity, which provides various social and healthcare services to entertainment industry workers.
The signing of the deal, originally expected to be completed by the end of last year, however, has been delayed by uncertainty over whether Congress will extend a moratorium on the building of long-term acute-care facilities.
In the meantime, Wednesday's announcement should help backers such as Katzenberg raise charitable contributions at an annual fundraising event held the night before the Academy Awards ceremony Feb. 26.
"It's been long and it's been hard and very difficult at times, but the good news is that the bad news is behind us,'' said Katzenberg, who had previously supported the decision to shutter the nursing home. "Now I feel like this is really a new day."
-- Richard Verrier
Photo: Protesters in 2009 rally against the planned closure of the Woodland Hills nursing home and hospital operated by the Motion Picture & Television Fund. Quinten Smoller, 5, center, and his family showed up to support his grandmother Ava Bliss, 85, an actress, rear center in wheelchair. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times