Veterans of the entertainment industry are struggling to cope with isolation and fear as a coronavirus outbreak devastates the Motion Picture & Television Fund’s Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills.
In last three weeks, four residents have died from complications related to COVID-19 while another 18 residents and nine staffers have tested positive for the coronavirus at the nearly -year-old retirement home and nursing facility. Now, the usually active and social members of the community find themselves living in lockdown, cut off from their friends and family, and fearing for their health.
Although the MPTF went into quarantine on March 9, weeks before Governor Gavin Newsom issued the statewide stay-at-home order, the first patient tested positive on March 31. Resident John Breier, 64, died on April 7, followed by the deaths of The Conversation actor Allen Garfield, 80, on April 8, The Little Mermaid animator Ann Sullivan, 91, on April 13, and E.T. cinematographer Allen Daviau, 77, on April 15.
MPTF CEO Bob Beitcher blamed the deaths on the lack of available testing. “We were one of the earliest nursing facilities to go to quarantine,” he told Variety. “We had seen what happened in Washington. What we said was assume that everyone has tested positive and act accordingly. The problem was that no one was testing healthy people at that point. And we can’t quarantine the caregivers.”
Now, with most of the MPTF’s campus activities suspended, isolated residents who are used to the normal health risks facing seniors see something more frightening in COVID-19.
“You may be undergoing dialysis or chemotherapy, yet there’s something about this,” 93-year-old resident and longtime writer/director Jerry Kaufmann tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Right now, the experts don’t know how to fight it. If they knew how to confront it, you wouldn’t be so terrified.”
Staffers also fear the virus, which makes fighting it even harder.
“I have some people who have already tested positive and can’t work and others who might be perfectly happy to do this kind of work under normal circumstances,” Beitcher tells THR, “but when you say ‘COVID-19’ they won’t because of the risk to themselves and their families.”
Emotionally, the quarantine itself puts residents’ lives in danger. Dr. Scott Kaiser, the MPTF’s chief innovation officer, called loneliness “the greatest risk factor of all” and “the biggest predictor in terms of early mortality” in his interview with THR.
Jerry Kaufmann feels the sting of loneliness now that he and his friends can’t get together in the campus dining room. “It’s like the Algonquin Roundtable: We sit and crack jokes—it’s more than a place to eat; it’s social. Every once in a while, we break into song, and when it’s over, we go back to the conversation,” he told THR. “We don’t do that on Zoom.”
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