St. Clare’s pensioners gain additional support

St. Clare's Corporation, which is reducing and eliminating checks, endorses call for solutions
The entrance to Ellis Medicine McClellan Street Health Center, which was St. Clare's Hospital, is pictured.
The entrance to Ellis Medicine McClellan Street Health Center, which was St. Clare's Hospital, is pictured.

SCHENECTADY — St. Clare’s Hospital retirees who will soon see their pensions cut or eliminated were given another message of support Friday, this time from those making the cuts.

The St. Clare’s Corporation, which inherited an underfunded pension plan after the Schenectady hospital shut down on state orders in 2008, has said it needs to make the pension payment reductions to keep the fund intact a bit longer. It plans to cut monthly payouts to about 443 former employees by 30 percent and eliminate the payments altogether for about 661 former employees.

On Friday, the corporation said it has calculated that if someone made a $29 million deposit in the pension fund, it could send a pension check to all 1,100-plus eligible retirees every month for the rest of their lives, though those checks would only be about 70 percent of the amount originally promised.

The move Friday came in response to the Schenectady County Legislature’s resolution Tuesday in support of the former St. Clare’s employees; the legislators called on stakeholders in the community to collaborate in good faith to identify strategies and funding sources to restore the pensions.

Two stakeholders were singled out by name: the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, which the resolution said had “at least a moral obligation” to the pensioners, and the state of New York, which the resolution said ordered the closure of St. Clare’s Hospital without providing adequate funding to stabilize the pension fund.

The diocese had a long, close association with St. Clare’s, beginning long before the hospital was even built, but it maintains it did not operate or own the hospital. The state has said its responsibility ended with the taxpayer-funded $28.5 million pension bailout it provided to St. Clare’s in 2008.

The diocese has recently taken a more compassionate tone in its denials of responsibility. It issued a statement Tuesday recognizing the work the pensioners did during their careers and the hardship created by the pension crisis. That statement also offered to facilitate discussions to find a solution, but it reiterated that the diocese did not cause the pension crisis, is not responsible for fixing it, and lacks the resources to pay for a bailout.

The St. Clare’s Corporation endorses the Schenectady County Legislature’s resolution and the diocese’s call for dialogue, its president, Joseph Pofit, said Friday. The hospital made almost no deposits to its pension fund from 1998 until the shutdown in 2008, Pofit said, and it has, of course, made none since then. So, there is no way the corporation can solve the problem on its own.

“Our board is committed to providing information to, and supporting the efforts of, others in the community as they seek other sources of funding,” Pofit said in Friday’s statement.

Pofit said the projected cost to provide all eligible retirees with reduced pension checks — about 70 percent of what was originally promised — would start at $193,000 in the first year, increase to a peak of $1.8 million in 2032, and gradually decrease after. Total estimated cost: $29 million. Actual sums would depend on how many years recipients survive to collect pension benefits and how well investments perform.

St. Clare’s retiree Lori Daviero, of Amsterdam, an organizer of the effort to help pensioners, welcomed the corporation’s statement Friday. While it was moral support more than anything else, it is another step toward helping a large group of people regain income they have earned and were promised.

“It’s amazing, and it’s due, I feel, to all the messages that are getting out,” she said, citing media coverage of the issue, the County Legislature’s resolution of support and an online petition drive that has gathered 3,300 signatures in less than a week.

“This is exciting,” Daviero said. “We’re excited that they’re actually going to talk.”

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