EXCLUSIVE: The Motion Picture & Television Fund’s nursing home in Woodland Hills was hit hard by the coronavirus in the early days of the pandemic. Seventeen residents were infected between March 31 and April 12, and six died. Since then, however, the home has seen a remarkable comeback in its battle against COVID-19: Not a single resident has tested positive in nearly six months.
Rapid turnaround testing, quarantining, PPE, attention to detail and lots of money are the keys to success. The home is spending $75,000 a month for PPE and testing alone and has performed more than 8,000 nose-swab tests of staff and residents. To help cover those costs, the MPTF’s Evening Before pre-Emmy party raised more than $1.7 million, including $455,000 in matching funds from Jeffrey and Marilyn Katzenberg.
In April, the Country Home set up its own lab, acquired testing devices and supplies and began an aggressive testing program that allows results within two hours. “It has been a game-changer in terms of surveillance testing: identifying asymptomatic but positive staff members and removing them from the workforce so that they can isolate from others, including their own families at home,” said MPTF president and CEO Bob Beitcher.
And the learning curve has been steep. “The understanding of community transmission, especially asymptomatic spreaders, came too late for us to protect the 17 residents,” he said, “but the emphasis on highest-grade masking and other PPE we discovered in those ([first] two weeks, along with extensive training and re-education, has been a true barrier to further spread.”
MPTF is taking the lessons it’s learned to help others, as well. “We are expanding this testing program to support our entertainment community by testing field reps for various unions as well as staff professionals who are working in the office,” he said. “We are also supporting other senior care facilities in our community with testing.”
Since the outbreak began, 27 staffers have tested positive for coronavirus – including one just last Friday. “But we have contained the virus and not allowed them to infect others, including residents,” Beitcher said. “I’ve been tested seven times, and some staff have been tested 17 times. Once we have a positive in an area, every resident and staff member there has to be tested. … There have been no deaths among staff, thank God.”
He added: “This is the most complicated and mysterious health care crisis in the last 100 years. One of the main lessons I’ve learned is that, in situations like this, you get to see the very best in people. They step up in really miraculous ways that are unexpected. Another lesson is to listen to science and good medicine and roll with the punches. We still don’t know 10% of what COVID is.”
To stay on top of the ever-evolving situation, Beitcher said that “our amazing materials management team managed to procure required PPE for us, and we now have an inventory that would last several months, even in the worst conditions. A multi-disciplinary MPTF COVID-19 Task Force has met three times a week over the past six months to collaborate on protective safety measures and other related issues to ensure that nothing is left unnoticed or unaddressed, providing the flexibility to shift gears quickly when events on the ground or regulations or public health directives change.”
He also praised Katzenberg, who is chairman of the MPTF Board of Governors. “Jeffrey has always been a true MPTF supporter and leader,” Beitcher said. “During this pandemic, he has stepped up in ways that are obvious, like this $455,000 matching gift. But there were also months when he called me every day to ask, ‘How are you doing, and how are your residents and staff doing?’”
In a statement to Deadline, Katzenberg said:
“MPTF has been and remains at the center of our family’s philanthropy. Marilyn and I believe that it’s critical to give back to those who have helped us in our own journey and who more than the working men and women in our industry do we have to thank. This year, in the time of the pandemic, has borne out the absolutely essential reason for MPTF to be there for our entertainment community.
“I’m amazed when I hear about 15,000 phone calls to industry members from (MPTF) social workers and compassionate volunteers. There isn’t a person in our business today who isn’t struggling and MPTF’s way of connecting them with help of every kind is inspiring. And so is the way the MPTF team has handled COVID at the Country Home. We are into our 24th week without a positive resident. The cost of PPE and testing has strained our operating budget – it’s over $75,000 a month. Marilyn and I decided that to do our part for MPTF this year, we would match all individual giving for the recent EVENING BEFORE, MPTF’s Emmys party. We encouraged all donors to cost us a lot. Yesterday we tallied the results and with a matching donation from our foundation of $455,000, MPTF raised over $1.7 million! Marilyn and I couldn’t be prouder!”
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