MPTF brass defend hospital shutdowns

Say shift to community care is a 'difficult process'

Paid executives and volunteer Hollywood VIPs, who together run an organization providing a retirement safety net for industry professionals, found themselves Wednesday defending a proposed hospital closure against criticism by employees and others.

The nonprofit Motion Picture & Television Fund last month announced plans to phase out by year's end an acute-care hospital and long-term care facility on its Wasserman Campus in Woodland Hills, citing severe operating deficits. Four weeks later, officials said during a media conference call that they were standing by the decision, despite the criticism, and emphasized that the moves will be mitigated by an expansion of community-based services.

The MPTF has established a network of "community care teams" to coordinate home-based health care and social services.

David Tillman, the organization's CEO, said the "difficult and challenging process" was prompted by balance-sheet problems. Fiscal imbalances were expected to grow during the next few years, largely because of decreased state reimbursements and inadequate investment returns, he said.

"We were reaching the point where we were going to have to draw down on our investment portfolio and, in the not-too-distant future, deplete it," Tillman said.

Last year, the Camden Group consultancy reviewed the MPTF's finances and recommended steps including the planned closures. The closures ensure that the campus's core retirement community can continue and community health care and other services can be sustained and nurtured, officials said.

"We all deeply love this institution and what it does and what it means and what it stands for, (and) we are all dedicated to seeing that it survives and grows," said Jeffrey Katzenberg, who chairs the MPTF Foundation board.

The MPTF traces its history to 1921, when Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and others created the Motion Picture Relief Fund to support economically challenged industryites. With operations funded through industry philanthropy and labor-group contributions, the organization maintains a 44-acre retirement village on the Wasserman Campus -- named for the family of longtime MPTF benefactor Lew Wasserman -- and six off-site outpatient centers.

Nearly 300 employees will lose their jobs because of the facility closures, and members of United Healthcare Workers West have staged protests. But 215 residents of the Wasserman Campus' main retirement community will not be affected by the changes, which are expected to take about nine months to complete.

"These are complex decisions, and they involve many different variables," Katzenberg said. "This is not a decision you can just open up to several hundred people for their input, for their debate. You can't run an enterprise that way."

Katzenberg, who oversees charitable fundraising on behalf of the MPTF, noted that the Night Before event, conducted annually before the Academy Awards, will take place as usual Feb. 21.

"The support of this organization by our community has been outstanding," he said.

Responding to a reporter's question, the DreamWorks Animation chief said he has no intention of curtailing his annual donations to the organization.

"I've given many millions of dollars to the MPTF and continue to do so," Katzenberg said. "Both my wife and I continue to put the MPTF at the very, very top of our philanthropy."

MPTF corporate chairman Frank Mancuso said Hollywood studios have been highly supportive of the organization's fundraising efforts, which also include the annual charity event A Fine Romance.

"Quite frankly, without them, it would be difficult to put those events on," he said. "The studios have been very supportive, as have many of the guilds."