Facts can be inconvenient when a writer's purpose is to grab attention and evoke outrage among his readers. And so it was with Robert J. Elisberg's September 8 column on the impending closure of the Motion Picture and Television Fund's (MPTF) Long Term Care Unit (LTCU). Calling the people who made this difficult and painful decision a "death panel" is outrageous, irresponsible and has no bearing on the truth. But the truth doesn't seem terribly relevant to Mr. Elisberg.
If he had bothered to check his facts instead of parroting the arguments of those who oppose the closure, Mr. Elisberg would have discovered a very different and far more complicated story than the one he chose to tell. One of the only things he got right is that this is a very difficult situation and a microcosm of what is happening to health care providers throughout the country.
First, no one has died as a result of this decision or from transfer trauma. The California Department of Health Services actively investigates cases of transfer trauma as part of its supervision of health care providers. In its annual 2009 survey, the Department investigated complaints about 17 deaths among residents at the facility and four former residents who had already transferred. In their official report, they determined that the complaints were "unsubstantiated." And they did not report any cases of transfer trauma. Further, the number of deaths since the announcement is similar to those for the same time periods in 2007 and 2008. Suggesting otherwise impugns the integrity and professionalism of the men and women who care for our residents and only serves to create fear and anger.
It is hard for any reasonable person to argue that MPTF is abandoning our residents. Yes, the unit is closing and we are not happy about it. Twenty-three similar units in California have closed or announced they are closing in the past two years. Most, if not all of these facilities gave their patients the 30-day notice required by the State of California. MPTF announced in January that the LTCU would close by the end of the year so that our residents and their families would have 12 months to identify new facilities with our help. We have identified 22 high quality community nursing homes to which people can relocate and we are committing millions of dollars for community care teams comprised of geriatricians, geriatric nurse practitioners, social workers, clergy, activities staff and volunteers to assist in the transition and in the continuing care of our former residents if that is their desire.
In fact, 26 residents have successfully transferred. One family member felt so positively about her mother's experience that she documented it and it can be viewed on our website here.
The financial reasons for this decision have been explained in a number of public and private forums and can also be found on our website. Had Mr. Elisberg bothered to ask we would have been happy to review them with him as we have with many other journalists. To address them in this context does not do justice to the complexity of the system of reimbursement for care and the cost of delivering that care. The bottom line is that the LTCU loses nearly $1 million a month and if it is not closed, the entire organization will be bankrupt within five years and we will no longer be able to provide health care, social services and financial assistance to the 60,000 industry members and their families who rely on us every year for services.
And here is the rest of the story that Mr. Elisberg chose not to tell.
- MPTF still maintains an active retirement community on our Woodland Hills campus that is NOT closing. We provide housing and services to 214 people in our residential and assisted living facilities and our memory care unit.
- The campus also has a state-of-the-art health and wellness center and we provide a host of medical and other services to residents and industry members from the community.
- The MPTF Palliative Care program we offer to those on our campus and in the community, including some of our former residents has won multiple awards, including the National Consensus Project's 2008 Quality in Palliative Care Leadership Award.
- MPTF is the primary health care provider to 60,000 industry members at six health centers throughout LA County. In a Patient Assessment Survey administered by the California Cooperative Healthcare Reporting Initiative, MPTF ranked in the 90th percentile in ratings of overall assessment of healthcare.
- The Director of MPTF's Community Social Services recently accepted the 2009 Community Service Award from Aging Services of California in recognition of our Center on Aging. But for the social workers, the highest level of recognition comes from those whose lives the Fund helped put back on track. People like Tim James who said, "I was injured on the job and found myself unable to work. The people at MPTF's financial assistance office embraced me and never made me feel ashamed or embarrassed about asking for help.... I am so grateful to the Fund for helping me get back on my feet again."
- It would cost at least $36million to keep the LTCU open for three more years as some residents and their families have demanded. Thus far, no one has offered to donate anything remotely close.
The Board of Directors and Trustees -- a group of volunteers from many sectors of the entertainment industry -- struggled mightily for years to find an alternative to closure that would ensure the Fund's continued viability. But they were confronted with the same financial realities that are facing health care providers throughout the country.
We remain committed to serving each and every one of our residents, patients and clients with the respect and dignity they deserve. That is not as interesting as Mr. Elisberg's story, but also unlike his, it is true.