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Foss: It's time to help St. Clare's pensioners

Foss: It's time to help St. Clare's pensioners

Foss: It's time to help St. Clare's pensioners
Entrance to Ellis Medicine McClellan Street Health Center, which was St. Clare's Hospital.
Photographer: GAZETTE FILE PHOTOGRAPH

Perhaps it was foolish of me. 

But I genuinely believed that a plan for helping the St. Clare's Hospital retirees who saw their pensions reduced or eliminated would be close to reality by now. 

After all, everyone agrees that what's happened to the retirees is wrong. 

And when everyone's in agreement, fixing a problem ought to be easy. 

Of course, there's nothing easy about coming up with the money the pensioners need. The pension deficit is estimated to be in excess of $50 million -- not exactly pocket change. 

But there appeared to be real concern for the retirees, and I was convinced it would translate into real action. 

It still could, of course. 

But last week's news was disheartening. 

We learned that efforts to help the pensioners have stalled, and that the state budget for the coming fiscal year probably won't contain any money for a bailout. 

The state assemblymen working on the issue, Angelo Santabarbara and Phil Steck, told The Daily Gazette that their efforts to obtain state money hasn't been matched by any attempt to secure funding by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany. 

St. Clare's was a Catholic hospital, affiliated with and sponsored by the Diocese. Former Bishop Howard Hubbard chaired the hospital's board of trustees in its final days and negotiated its closure, and current Bishop Edward Scharfenberger sat on the board of directors of the St. Clare's Corp. until very recently. 

Despite all this, the diocese maintains that it never owned or operated St. Clare's and isn't responsible for the pension mess. 

As I've said before, I don't know whether the diocese has a legal responsibility here, but it certainly has a moral responsibility. It's only reasonable to expect that state assistance for the pensioners be matched by some sort of good-faith effort from the diocese. 

Unfortunately, that doesn't appear to be happening. 

And as long as that's the case, the lack of money for the pensioners is unlikely to be addressed in any meaningful fashion. 

The diocese's tone has shifted notably when commenting on the plight of the retirees. 

Its initial statement sounded like it was written by a computer, rather than an human being. 

More recent statements have had a more sympathetic tone, and Scharfenberger has said he has been "deeply affected" by the "stories of struggling" he has heard from the retirees. That's nice, but it matters little unless it's accompanied by actual assistance. 

Also needed is an investigation to determine how the pension fund wound up tens of millions of dollars short of what's needed to pay retirements benefits for 1,000-plus retirees. 

The state comptroller's office has already rejected Sen. James Tedisco's request for a review, saying it doesn't have the authority to audit the private fund. 

That might be true. But it doesn't make figuring out how the pension fund got into the mess it's in any less necessary. 

The state ordered and oversaw the closure of St. Clare's a decade ago. If the state comptroller's office doesn't have the authority to investigate, perhaps some other agency can take a look at the matter. 

What's happening to the retirees is shameful. 

Watching key players throw up their hands and deny responsibility makes it worse. 

Everyone knows the retirees are being wronged. 

Now it's time to do something about it.

Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's. 

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