L.A.'s Saban Clinic Launches Emergency Relief Fund: "People Are Going to Have Bigger Needs Now"

Shahar Azran/Getty Images; Adam Friedman
Health care workers at an intake table at the Saban Community Clinic’s Melrose Health Center (Inset: Cheryl Saban).

Cheryl Saban talks to The Hollywood Reporter about sheltering at home, the causes she's funding and the work of the clinic on the COVID-19 front lines.

Like many in the world, Cheryl Saban is hunkering down at home with her husband, music and media entrepreneur Haim Saban, while holding down the fort on two professional fronts. As the president of Saban Family Foundation, she continues to meet virtually with her staff of five, which will be busier in the coming months as vital services are pushed to the brink more than ever due to the coronavirus pandemic. As of July 2019, the foundation had donated $420 million to 1,000 causes and institutions including the Saban Community Clinic's three Los Angeles locations. "People are going to have bigger needs now, once the dust settles a little bit," she says.

The Saban Community Clinics, which provide quality low-cost or no-cost medical and dental care to more than 20,000 of L.A.'s most vulnerable each year, have seen an uptick in patients experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and testing positive. A fourth clinic is set to open April 13 in Rampart Village near downtown L.A..

"Cheryl has been very supportive of the new site and our emergency relief fund that we've created to really combat this virus and jump into action," says Adam Friedman, chief of marketing and advancement officer of the clinic. "We've set up a triage tent outside where staff or patients every day have their temperatures monitored and are reviewed for active symptoms for COVID. That's kind of the first line of defense that we have up at all three sites. We've shifted about 80 percent of our medical and behavioral health visits to telehealth or video calls. So anybody with non-urgent medical questions is being treated remotely, and our productivity is incredibly high, almost the normal level. Cheryl and the foundation were very quick to reach out to us to find out what we needed and how they could help, which exhibits their loyalty to the organizations that they support."

Outside of her philanthropic efforts (which also include supporting the under-construction Academy Museum of Motion Pictures with a $50 million gift), Saban is a glassware designer with her own hot-shop glassblowing studio. THR caught up with Saban by phone on March 27 to discuss the couple’s self-quarantine, which nonprofits they are immediately assisting, and how Democratic fundraising is being impacted amid the crisis.

How are you adjusting to the lockdown? 

Thank God neither Haim nor I nor any of our team here or my kids or grandkids have been infected. So right now we’re all in a very good spirits, FaceTiming each other, doing team meetings through Microsoft or Zoom. It’s amazing how people adapt, and we can do a lot of things from our homes that we didn’t think we could do before. But this is like a wartime situation, and people are losing their jobs, employers are trying to figure out how to save people’s jobs, what to do in order not to lose everyone, but they can’t pay their salaries out of thin air. I’m very glad that people are social distancing, which is the only thing that’s going to stop the spread.

What’s your day-to-day like? 

I’m sleeping in now, it’s crazy. I used to get up at 6, and now I’m up at 7:15, and for me that’s late. I read as soon as I get up; I look at the news. Then I do something more creative. I draw, I sketch things that I might want to make in the future, I play with my color swatches. And I look at art books because those are inspiring for me. Yesterday, I took a swim. I do some kind of physical activity every day, like Pilates. Mostly I like to be outside, so I walk around for a half an hour at least and just look at the trees. Haim and I both have home offices. We have for a long time. And we kind of keep a normal routine. He is working in his office, talking to his various teams. The discovery of the Zoom meetings has been a huge eye-opener because you can get so much done. And you’re not driving anywhere. I think it’s going to change the way people work in the future. Then we’ll have lunch together. He’s gonna work out, I’m gonna work out, and we meditate in the afternoon. Then in the evenings. we come together and binge-watch a show.

Has the foundation been more busy because of the pandemic?

The only things that have really taken a pause are the things that you do in person. Like there’s not going to be a Rape Treatment Center board meeting. They may try to have one virtually, which is fine. Our foundation team is still working from home. We are not stopping. We have programs that are ongoing. But I’m not taking on a lot of new projects right now. We always have at the back of our mind, me in particular, women and children, and I want them to feel safe and strong and healthy and to get their needs met. Obviously, it’s a fragile time for everyone, particularly if you’re a senior citizen or if you’ve gotten sick and you don’t have the wherewithal to get the help you need. So we are looking into ways of being helpful through the clinic and the hospital. We’re not going to try to reinvent the wheel, either. We are going to help people who have figured out best practices to do things. Our philanthropy is definitely not going to be stopping anytime soon because people are going to have bigger needs now, once the dust settles a little bit, when organizations try to figure out how they can help their populations. I found some way I can help without leaving my home by sending money to the Regional Food Bank in Los Angeles. They are trying to feed the populations that come to them for food every day. They are open and still functioning and they just need the money. And then also Project Angel Food [which provides meals to people with life-threatening illnesses], which we are still supporting. 

What’s been the hardest adjustment?

Not seeing my kids and grandkids. We definitely waited the essential 14 days, and now we’re just being cautious. Haim and I are both over 60. Our kids don’t want anything to happen to us. We know a couple of people who were infected. This is a time when everyone is retracting from their normal way they do business and trying to discover other ways to stay sane, safe, healthy and happy. I think we all need to do that so that we don’t get depressed about it. I play solitaire on my computer. I’m reading two books at the same time: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and Dan Brown’s Origin.

Is there any sense that the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures opening will have to be delayed?

I have no idea. I was actually there a week or two before this all hit the fan. And things were clipping along nicely. And I was thinking, "Boy, it’s all gonna be in shape and ready to open in December." I haven’t talked to them. But if they’re following the same kind of rules everyone else is, then obviously they are very much slowed down. 

You and Haim are prolific Democratic Party donors. How much do you see coronavirus affecting the ability to fundraise in these coming months before the election?

I think it is on the back burner, frankly. I mean, yes, we’re watching everything play out, but it’s not the first thing on my mind. Once we have a candidate, we will be extremely helpful. Right now, I am focused on watching the news, hoping that our existing government will do the right things — that’s what we have a government for. The United States is built on things like that.

Are you feeling hopeful?

It’s a really good opportunity to find whatever kind of religion you’ve got, whether you just believe in a force stronger than we are, and to understand that there is no blame here. We are not blaming anybody for a virus coming in the world. I mean this is just what happens sometimes. It’s like trying to blame nature for having a hurricane or something. We need to come together and deal with it. The scientists and the medical professionals are all very busy right now trying to come up with not only the solution but to be able to test that solution. I have a lot of faith in the brain trust that we have in this country and around the world. I know in Israel they’re very, very engaged in coming up with things. Somebody is going to come up with the answer relatively soon. I would bet on it. 

A version of this story first appeared in the April 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.