Wed, May. 14, 2003
Joe Endes, a retired actor who has performed "in every state of the country except Hawaii and Alaska," didn't want to give up living on his own.
Then multiple sclerosis took control of his hands, and Endes moved in with other retired thespians at the Actors Fund Nursing Home and Assisted Living Facility.
"One expects a lot of actors talking about themselves, but that doesn't happen," said Endes, with the exacting diction typical of any actor who, like Endes, has performed in more than 500 television and stage productions, including a dinner theater performance of "The Fantastics."
"It's a lot better than I thought it was going to be."
And it's getting better.
Against a backdrop of Medicaid and Medicare cuts that have hurt most other nursing homes, the actors' home recently received a $2 million gift from philanthropist Lillian Booth. She is the widow of Ferris Booth, whose father made a fortune from timely investments in IBM and Hotpoint.
Half of the money will be used for undetermined capital improvements, said Joseph Benincasa, executive director of the Actor's Fund of America, which runs the home. The other $1 million will go toward setting up an endowment, interest from which will help care for the 100 or so residents, he said.
Homes in New York and West Hollywood, Calif., are also maintained by the New York-based Actor's Fund, a nonprofit organization founded in 1882 to serve retired entertainment professionals. The homes are for actors whose stars may not have shone as brightly as those of the Barrymores or the Fairbanks.
But even for the lesser-known residents in hundreds of nursing homes across New Jersey, these are hard times.
The industry has been hit by reductions in reimbursement rates for Medicare and Medicaid, the federal programs that pay for permanent and temporary nursing home stays, said Paul Langevin, president of the Health Care Association of New Jersey.
The state has lost 1,637 licensed beds, two-thirds of which had been occupied on any given day, mostly by Medicaid beneficiaries, Langevin said.
"It's been a very difficult last five years for nursing facilities, in the United States in general and in New Jersey specifically," he said. "We have the worst reimbursement-to-cost ratio in the country."
At the Englewood campus, spotless single-story buildings sit high on a hill overlooking a leafy neighborhood, rooms are spacious and individually decorated.
The hallways are lined with photographs of Ed Sullivan, Edward G. Robinson and other celebrities in the arts.
Amenities include a richly paneled Maureen O'Sullivan library organized by retired actress and resident, Mary Hara, and a large, high-ceilinged salon with a grand piano and even grander large-screen television. The Oscars and the Tonys are among the most popular programs.
There is also a video library and screening room, where 1950s screen siren Pamela Duncan, star of the Roger Corman horror classics, "Attack of the Crab Monsters" and "The Undead," said she occasionally "takes a chance" and watches one of her old films.
Booth had already made considerable contributions to the Englewood home, which was renamed for her at a ceremony on April 23 - the birthday of Shakespeare and Endes.
The actress Lynne Redgrave, a trustee of the Actors Fund, visited the home that day to give a reading and to thank Booth personally.
"I'd had a dodgy knee," Redgrave recalled in a telephone interview.
"And I said to her, 'Ms. Booth, if I could kneel I would kiss your foot.'"
Copyright © 2003, Associated Press