Finding a Balance

October 5, 2011

One of the most common questions people ask me about my job is “What keeps you up at night?” My usual answer is “Which night are you asking about?” But seriously … the MPTF retirement community on The Wasserman Campus in Woodland Hills is a microcosm of the many, many issues swirling around our senior population – whether it’s the future of how our country will address long term care and dementia care in a period of shrinking government reimbursements, or a proactive approach to wellness to make sure that those living longer are living healthier, or the need for creativity for those who want to keep their imaginative impulses going beyond the length of their professional careers. What really keeps me up these nights though, is how the Fund is going to find the right, affordable balance in our residential campus between industry members who can afford to support themselves and those who need our subsidy to “gap” their monthly rent and expenses.

Let me explain. For many years, until recently in fact, the Fund sponsored roughly 25% of industry members on campus in independent or assisted living by providing rent subsidy, additional care support, and medication subsidy. The other residents are “private pay” – through savings, pensions, Social Security, and other income sources, they are able to cover their expenses, at least through a period of time. One of the things we pride ourselves in is that no one on campus knows who’s private pay and who’s subsidized and, as one of our residents who outlived her bank account and moved from private pay to subsidized once told us, “The food tastes the same.” Over the years, we’ve managed to keep the residential campus at very high levels of occupancy with this mix of industry retirees and have had a long “interested” list.

And today? Well, what’s happening is that more and more of our industry retirees on campus, once private pay, are outliving their bank accounts (as in the example I cited above) and are moving to Fund sponsored. Other industry retirees on our “interested” list are wanting to age at home until they need a high level of care, are stuck with houses that won’t sell or are under water on their mortgages or have grown children and/or grand-children living with them. Still others have seen their retirement plans take a nosedive in the turbulent stock market of the past few years, and have little or no cushion left.

So we’re now up to the Fund sponsoring 50% (!!!) of residents on campus and this is draining our charity budget at a faster pace than we can afford to maintain at today’s level of giving. These trends have imposed more financial discipline on us and caused us to stagger the admission of those needing subsidy until the mix of those needing less, or nothing at all, is more balanced. And, as a result, we have a higher level of vacancy than we’ve ever experienced in the past. (By the way, this is consistent with other independent and assisted living facilities nationally and locally – even at those facilities that do not offer subsidy.)

We are taking other steps to fill the vacant residences, including “sleep-overs” for potential residents, attending industry retiree meetings to promote the campus, holding some focus groups with potential and newly moved-in residents to help us understand better what the key triggers are for making the big decision.

This may go without saying, but it’s nevertheless probably a good way to end this piece. We are absolutely committed to maintaining the retirement community on our campus, which is a hallmark of the MPTF and part of our founders’ vision. We are also challenged by how we allocate our philanthropic dollars, which after all are limited, amongst the many demands and needs of members of the entertainment industry. We constantly need to assess and re-assess where we can do the most good for the most people, stay true to our mission, and ensure the stability of the Fund for the future. I hope this communication also serves as yet one more reminder of how you can help your fellow industry workers.

About Bob Beitcher

Bob Beitcher is the President and CEO of the Motion Picture & Television Fund. He has been a senior executive in the entertainment industry for 30 years, having held leadership roles at Jim Henson Productions, Paramount Pictures, Panavision and MacAndrews & Forbes Media Group. Bob has been an MPTF board member since 2007. He became interim CEO in 2010 and was named permanent CEO in 2011.

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