SCHENECTADY – Angie Stewart, a longtime nurse who retired from Ellis Medicine in 2018 at age 62, said she spent 30 years at the former St. Clare’s Hospital and was entitled to “a very nice pension” that was to account for 40 percent of her retirement income.
Stewart said she had just begun receiving payments when they abruptly stopped in 2018. Stewart said she’s now forced to rely on social security benefits and an IRA that she was hoping not to touch until later in life.
“It was devastating,” Stewart said.
Advocates for restoring pension payments to retirees of shuttered Catholic healthcare facilities, including St. Clare’s Hospital, have launched another effort, now that the state is led by a new governor.
In a bipartisan move, state Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, state Sen. James Tedisco, R-Glenville, and Mary Hartshorne, chairwoman of the St. Clare’s Pensioners Recovery Alliance, wrote to Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday, asking for her consideration on the matter.
The legislators’ letter said the pensions of more than 1,100 New Yorkers “evaporated in the snap of a finger, through no fault of their own.” This is no way to treat healthcare workers, they said.
“These are people that went back to work, even as they’re going through this crisis, even as they’re facing the situation that they’re in,” Santabarbara said in an interview Saturday. “Even as they’re watching their savings vanish, just disappear, under circumstances that are outside of their control.”
Tying the crisis to the country’s effort to rebound from the financial devastation of the pandemic, Santabarbara said, “We’re helping our communities recover in many different ways, so there’s funding out there (for the pensions). There are opportunities out there for people to partner with us.”
St. Clare’s Hospital operated from Sept. 1, 1949 until it shutter in 2008, citing insurmountable financial pressures.
On Oct. 18, 2018, St. Clare’s pensioners were notified their pensions had abruptly ended.
St. Clare’s operations were absorbed by Ellis Medicine. The former Catholic hospital was on the site of the McClellan Street Health Center.
St. Clare’s was closed by a requirement of the state’s Berger Commission, whose mission was to “right-size” New York’s healthcare facilities.
Since federal law permits a religious exemption, the St. Clare’s pension fund has no benefit guarantee insurance because federal law permits a religious exemption, the lawmakers’ letter to the governor reads.
For reasons not yet fully identified, the lawmakers said, the state did not provide ample funding to cover the St. Clare’s pension fund’s costs.
The pandemic has made the pensioners’ economic situations even more precarious, Santabarbara and Tedisco said.
Jerry and Kathy Adach, who worked a combined 59 years in administrative posts at St. Clare’s Hospital, said they were due a combined $27,000 in yearly pension funding, about a third of their estimated retirement incomes.
The couple met while at St. Clare’s Hospital.
Jerry Adach said that he interviewed for a job at another hospital in 2000, when word got back to his chief financial officer. “He called me in his office the next day, and he convinced me to stay, because I would hurt my pension based on my years of service there,” Adach said. “He was showing me examples of how it would hurt me in retirement. He convinced me to stay and I did.”
Kathy Adach said she was also interested in leaving the organization at about that time, but also wound up staying for what would turn out to be the false promise of a pension.
In making their pitch to the new governor, the lawmakers’ cite Hochul’s incoming pledge to restore trust in government and foster a culture of greater transparency.
“I’m joining with my colleague Assemblyman Santabarabara in a bipartisan effort to reach out to our new governor who I hope can meet with us and give this a fresh look so we can find common ground for the common good of our constituents,” Tedisco said in a statement.
Santabarbara noted that he and many of the retirees went to Albany to meet with Cuomo outside his office. But they were ignored each time, to which Santabarbara said he found insulting.
“These are my constituents,” Santabarbara said. “These are people that work in healthcare, and if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s just how important the many helpers in healthcare are to the health of our community, to the success of our community, and how vital they are.”
Hochul’s office received the letter, and the governor will review it soon, a spokeswoman said Friday.