Motion Picture Television Fund threatens to close nursing home

The Motion Picture Television Fund's Wasserman Campus in Woodland Hills.  The organization's motto,
The Motion Picture Television Fund's Wasserman Campus in Woodland Hills. The organization's motto, "Taking Care of Our Own," is mounted on the cement sign at the entrance. Some families criticize the organization for violating that promise in closing its long-term nursing home.
Courtesy Motion Picture Television Fund

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Seniors who move away from a familiar environment can suffer depression, weight loss or insomnia. They can even die. Experts call it “transfer trauma.” Some families say that's what's happened at the Motion Picture Television Fund. The MPTF plans to close its long-term nursing home by the end of 2009.

NATSOT [walking through corridor]

Richard Stellar: “When my mom came here, she thought she was at M-G-M. You could see the photographs of movies on the wall.”

Patricia Nazario: Richard Stellar visits his mother often at the Motion Picture Television Fund’s long-term care nursing facility.

Richard Stellar: "Mary Stellar? Mom?"

Nazario: Mary Stellar is a native of Brooklyn. She built her Hollywood career as an assistant to Cubby Broccoli, producer of the James Bond films.

Stellar: This is Patricia, my friend.
Mary Stellar: Patricia, your friend?
Nazario: Hi!
Stellar: This is my mom.
Mary Stellar: What ‘cha doing there?
Stellar: Ninety-one years old.
Mary Stellar: Are you cold?
Nazario: (laughing) I am cold! (all laughing).

Nazario: Mary Stellar suffers from severe dementia. The days she’s coherent and engaged with others are few and far between. Her son considered this a good visit. He said the nursing home staff keeps his mother clean, even on the days she stays in her wheelchair, unaware of her surroundings.

Richard Stellar: “Her hair is done. She’s immaculate.”

Nazario: On this day, her lipstick is red. Most people who live at the Fund’s long-term care hospital are well past 80, and frail. About seven dozen of them still call this place home. Richard Stellar said he’s fighting to keep it open.

Stellar: “I’m upset that a promise was broken.”

Nazario: The Motion Television Picture Fund spells out that promise in its motto, displayed at the entrance of its Woodland Hills property: Taking Care of Our Own. Early Hollywood heavyweights Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford established the charitable organization in the 19-20s. They wanted it to serve people in their industry with financial help and medical services at every stage of their lives. Fund executives say the acute-care hospital and long-term nursing home run an annual deficit of about 10-million dollars. Before it bankrupts the entire organization, they say, they want to shut it down.

Helen Frasier: “People have died from the shock of being told suddenly that the place is closing.”

Nazario: 86-year-old Helen Frasier is one occupant who’s retained legal counsel and joined the fight to keep the nursing home open. She’s lived there for three years. Frasier said she’ll never forget the day the daughter of a neighbor arrived to move her mother out.

Frasier: “…and she came in and told her, you know, ‘Mother, we have to go. And her mother was crying, screaming, ‘Please, don’t take me. Please, I don’t want to go. I could hear her. She’s two doors down.’”

Nazario: Helen Frasier said that a few days later, the daughter returned to pick up her mother’s things - and to tell nurses that the woman had died.

Frasier: “…and was telling everyone upstairs how sorry she was and she was crying. “I’m so sorry I took my mother out.”

Nancy Ramirez: “So far, we’ve had great feedback from the families.”

Nazario: Nancy Ramirez is a registered nurse who manages patient services at the facility. She’s also helping patients make the transition into other nursing homes.

Ramirez: “They’ve been very, very grateful for the types of care.
Ramirez: “We have not had one unexpected demise of any of our residents. The average age is in the mid-90s.”

Nazario: Ramirez and another transition-team member Lea Pipes joined the Fund’s chief executive Ken Shearer to offer a tour of the nursing home. Shearer said a number of patients who have died were on palliative care.

Ken Shearer: “To be criticized that somehow this process killed that person is not only inaccurate, it’s entirely untrue. It’s entirely untrue.
Group: Exactly! Oh, it would have. Absolutely. There’s no question. (two female voices and Shearer).”

Nazario: Someone formally questioned the connection between several untimely deaths and the fund’s relocation procedures, said Kathleen Billingsley. She’s a deputy director at the state department of public health.

Kathleen Billingsley: “There was a complaint, yes. That I see was investigated…”

Nazario: …last April. Three months after the Fund sent letters that announced plans to close its nursing home and acute-care hospital. State investigators concluded that the facility was following the law. California’s Safety Code specifically addresses transfer trauma. Fund executives say they’re taking steps to minimize it. For example, a nurse, a social worker and an activities coordinator help longtime patients settle into their new homes - and conduct follow up visits. But family members like Richard Stellar say they disagree with the Fund’s approach to closing a place where their relatives felt comfortable and well cared for.

Richard Stellar:
“It’s the notion that a handful of people can turn the course of motion picture healthcare and stop the continuum of care. That affects my mother. That affects the mothers of my friends and we are a family!”

Nazario: Stellar criticizes the Motion Picture Fund for abandoning its pledge to take care of its own. He’s formed a group to protest the closing. It’s called Saving the Lives of Our Own.