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St. Clare's pension crisis: Petition to aid retirees gains steam

St. Clare's pension crisis: Petition to aid retirees gains steam

Schenectady County Legislature to consider message of support Tuesday
St. Clare's pension crisis: Petition to aid retirees gains steam
The Ellis Medicine McClellan Street Health Center, which was St. Clare's Hospital, is pictured.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

SCHENECTADY — An online petition calling for assistance to employees of the former St. Clare’s Hospital facing loss of their pensions garnered more than 1,600 signatures in less than two days.

The Schenectady hospital surrendered its operating license in 2008 on orders of state officials as part of a drive to reduce costs and increase efficiency within the health-care industry statewide.

St. Clare’s had been struggling with its finances for years and did not make millions — perhaps tens of millions — of dollars in recommended contributions to its pension fund. It also exercised its option as a church-affiliated hospital to opt out of the federal pension insurance system as another means to save money.

Ten years later, in 2018, the pension obligations to current and future St. Clare’s retirees are estimated at $68.7 million, but the pension fund’s assets are only $29 million. 

To make the assets last longer, the St. Clare’s Corporation, which now controls the pension fund, notified retirees in October that starting in early 2019, older retirees would get a reduced pension and younger retirees would get no pension at all. 

Last week, it sent out a follow-up letter indicating the estimated amount of reductions: Those lucky enough to still be getting pensions will receive an estimated 70 percent of their original pension.


The dividing line is Nov. 1, 2015: The roughly 443 ex-St. Clare’s employees who were at least 62 years old and/or receiving benefits on that date will get the reduced payments. Roughly 661 other ex-employees will get nothing.

The St. Clare’s pension fund’s problems were well-known in 2008 when the hospital dissolved and its campus became part of what is now Ellis Medicine, but many apparently believed a state-funded bailout had resolved the matter. Accordingly, the recent developments were a nasty surprise for a lot of people.

The ex-employees, many of them elderly and most of them angry or anxious at losing some or all of their retirement income, have been scrambling to come up with an effective response.

One of their moves has been to start a petition drive online at https://pension.rememberstclares.org/. It doesn’t point fingers or cite causes for the problem but asks everyone and anyone “to use their vast networks of problem-solving experts and advisors to identify strategies and funding sources that will restore our pension.”

It will be delivered to The Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, the state Assembly and Senate, the New York Governor’s Office, Prudential Insurance (which manages the pension fund), the Schenectady County Legislature and the Schenectady Mayor’s Office.

The petition drive officially went live over the weekend. Early Sunday morning, when The Daily Gazette published stories about the pension crisis and the retirees it was affecting, about a dozen people had signed the petition. By 7 p.m. Monday it had more than 1,600.

The County Legislature will weigh in on the issue at its Tuesday night meeting with a message of support for the retirees. Majority Leader Gary Hughes said he and other legislators had been following the situation since it first became apparent a crisis was brewing. More recently, some former St. Clare’s employees had reached out to them for help.

“We represent a lot of these folks and they need a fuller hearing of these issues,” Hughes said.

“Our intent is to pass a resolution of support ... and to call on stakeholders in the community to collaborate and seek a solution for their pension problems.”

The county is limited in its options, not having caused the problem and not being able to fix it. But Hughes said the Legislature wants to see the matter pursued.

“It’s the members’ view that there needs to be a fuller discussion of this.”


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