When the Motion Picture & Television Fund announced last month that it was shuttering the long-term-care facility and hospital at its retirement home in the Woodland Hills district of Los Angeles—effectively ending the comprehensive care it once provided to aging actors, studio employees and film technicians—it painted a dire picture of itself as a charitable organization on the brink of financial ruin.
The foundation, established by Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin 87 years ago, said it was losing $10 million a year because of ever-diminishing Medicaid and Medi-Cal reimbursements to its elderly residents, and risked depleting its endowment completely within a few years if it did not act immediately to stanch the flow of red ink.
There is, however, a major problem with that explanation: It does not appear to be entirely true.
The numbers being bandied about by Jeffrey Katzenberg, the MPTF’s chief fund-raiser, and other officials do not square with the organization’s own official accounting numbers and tax returns.
Those documents—the most recent 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.
The MPTF opened a new state-of-the-art gym and fitness facility, the Saban Center for Health and Wellness, in July 2007. The multi-million-dollar project seems inconsistent with an organization in financial trouble.
Jeffrey Katzenberg, the DreamWorks Animation chairman who heads an annual fund-raiser at this time of year for the MPTF Foundation, has felt it necessary to offer public explanations, though he has done so only on Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood blog, where he refused to be quoted.
The closures, announced without warning last month, have provoked widespread consternation inside the home itself, as well as in the entertainment community at large. Many in Hollywood have privately expressed outrage and embarrassment at the impression that the entertainment industry cannot take care of its own.
Some of the 100-plus frail residents threatened with removal to other facilities before the end of 2009, many of them in their 80s and 90s, feel “tormented” and are reluctant to eat, according to a letter sent by several MPTF families to the home's chief executive, David Tillman.
A tour last week of the long-term-care facility revealed an impeccably kept home, where even the most infirm residents—who spend the day in wheelchairs or loungers—have their hair done every morning and have makeup applied to their faces if they or their families request it.
The anxiety, however, was also immediately obvious. The closures were the No. 1 topic of conversation among nursing staff and those residents lucid enough to understand what is happening. One woman took to her bed as soon as she heard she was being evicted and refused to get up again for a week, according to nursing staff. Another, who had been in apparently good health, died very soon after getting the news.
Read the rest of the story at TheWrap.com.
Andrew Gumbel is the author of Steal This Vote: Dirty Elections and the Rotten History of Democracy in America.