There is perhaps no sadder Hollywood story to emerge from the recession than the closure of Motion Picture & Television Fund's long-term care facility and hospital in Woodland Hills.
A retirement home for aging actors and studio employees founded by Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin 87 years ago, the facility's shuttering requires the transferal of 100 frail patients in their 80s and 90s to other hospitals, while 290 full-time staff lost their jobs. The Wrap reports the devastating news led the patients to feel "tormented" and "reluctant to eat," and six patients died since the closure was announced—what they say is a far higher number than usual.
At the center of the controversy is DreamWorks Animation Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, who also serves as chairman of the MPTF Foundation Board and typically heads a fundraiser for the facility this time every year. Katzenberg until now had only spoken to Deadline Hollywood Daily (on the condition that they not quote him directly) about how "distressed and upset" he was over the news. He stressed that the Woodland Hills closure was just "one very small part of what [MPTF] delivers to Hollywood," and that it was a long time coming, the facility being "60 years old and in no way, shape or form up to the demands for first-class medical care needed by acute care patients today."
The PR damage had been done, however. Patients and staff were despondent. The Wrap poked holes in the board's story, offering tax return evidence that showed none of the $10 million losses due to Medicaid and Medi-Cal reimbursements the board had cited.
Katzenberg held a damage control press conference yesterday just hours after the fired health care workers staged a candlelight vigil outside Woodland Hills. In it, he and other board members admitted they did a bad job in releasing the news:
"We give ourselves a failing grade," said Katzenberg, speaking at a Wednesday news conference in his role as chairman of the MPTF Foundation Board. "We have really not done a good job in that area."
Katzenberg admitted that the Jan. 14 surprise announcement had created the mistaken impresssion that all MPTF facilities would be shuttered.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," he added.
They went on to deny The Wrap's claims that patients had refused to eat and were dropping like flies, and stressed that the fund will continue to operate its independent and assisted-care facilities in Woodland Hills and half a dozen health centers in the area. No mention, it seems, was made of the effects tearing these convalescing patients—former chorus girls, comedy writers, costume designers, mogul's secretaries—away from their friends and loyal caregivers might reap in their twilight days in Hollywood.
[Photo: Andrew Gumbel, The Wrap]