Amid a pandemic that is disproportionately dangerous for older populations, the Motion Picture & Television Fund’s Wasserman campus in Woodland Hills has achieved something remarkable.
The campus, which houses about 250 entertainment industry retirees and is ranked No. 4 on the Business Journal’s list of Assisted Living Facilities, hasn’t recorded a positive coronavirus test among its residents since April 12.
Chief Executive Bob Beitcher told the Business Journal the key to the home’s success is frequent testing for all residents and staff, including those without symptoms.
In late March and early April, the coronavirus rocked the fund’s Wasserman campus, infecting 17 residents and killing six.
“What we realized during that period was that we had asymptomatic, silent spreaders,” Beitcher said. “At that time, you couldn’t get a COVID-19 test for anyone who was asymptomatic. We just felt totally vulnerable.”
The solution? Beitcher’s team, led by Chief Innovation Officer Scott Kaiser, set up an internal testing laboratory where residents and staff could commission tests at will and receive results within hours.
That solution didn’t come easy or cheap, however.
The fund partnered with biotech Biomeme in Philadelphia to procure four testing machines along with reagents, buffers and swabs, then stood up a testing operation in a vacant lab space.
Each machine costs $12,000, Beitcher said. Not including labor, the materials required for each test cost about $50. Residents are tested monthly and direct caregiver staff weekly – sometimes more if a staffer tests positive. That adds up to thousands of tests since April. Then there’s payroll and training expenses for the staffers working as lab technicians and swabbers.
Coupled with revenue loss resulting from a halt in new resident acceptance, the virus has been a major financial burden, Beitcher said.
A forgivable loan through the CARES Act’s Paycheck Protection Program helped offset some costs, as have corporate and individual donations.
“We’ve been blessed with some generous donors who have been supporting MPTF during the pandemic. There’s no better use of the money than doing this testing,” Beitcher said.
That philanthropy includes donations from Jeffrey Katzenberg, chairman of MPTF’s board, and his wife Marilyn Katzenberg, who together donated $455,000 at the nonprofit’s fundraiser event ahead of the Emmy awards last month. George and Amal Clooney are major donors as well, Beitcher said.

Process pioneers
Los Angeles Jewish Home played a major role in establishing citywide processes for asymptomatic testing at nursing homes.
The nonprofit’s two Valley facilities – Eisenberg Village of the Jewish Homes for the Aging and Fountainview at Eisenberg Village, both in Reseda – rank No. 2 and No. 5 on the Business Journal’s Assisted Living Facilities list.
According to Chief Medical Officer Noah Marco, the city spent the early months of the pandemic focusing on procuring testing for first responders, homeless people and members of the general public with symptoms.
“No one was providing test equipment to the population that needed it, which was seniors living in facilities,” he said.
Marco led an effort to lobby Mayor Eric Garcetti to provide testing materials for senior housing facilities, and was able to find 1,000 test kits made by laboratory company Everlywell. He kept 500 for the Jewish Homes and sent 500 to another retirement home, Brier Oak on Sunset.
The testing returned just one positive test at the Jewish Homes. Brier Oak wasn’t so lucky.
“Their first run showed a large number of residents and staff infected (by COVID-19). They were one of the first facilities in L.A. that demonstrated asymptomatic spread,” Marco said.
That was in early April.
“We created the process of how to do the registration, the testing, how to use the equipment, how to mail it – all the logistics were created by us and Brier Oak. … We now have four different processes for testing, depending on the situation.”
The nonprofit also had to contend with a leadership change during a tumultuous economic stretch. Former Chief Executive Molly Forrest retired from her post to become president of the Jewish Home Foundation. Filling her shoes is Dale Surowitz, the former chief executive of Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center.
Surowitz said the Jewish Home is thinking about COVID-19’s long-term implications for elderly and end-of-life care. Particularly, he sees a trend towards aging in place at home, rather than at an assisted living facility.
“As people are social distancing and quarantining, we need to make sure there’s an outreach that’s going to address those needs,” he explained.
He said the Jewish Home is lucky to be funded primarily by federal and state sources, but conceded it will be difficult for the nonprofit to stretch its pandemic-time spending habits into 2021.
“It’s a challenge. There’s no two ways around it.”

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