SCHENECTADY — Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie called the pension cuts for former St. Clare’s Hospital employees a “shame” and “heartbreaking.”
“We’re going to continue to try to look at it,” Heastie said. “It’s got to be heartbreaking for people to do a life’s work and find out that you don’t have a pension, so I know it has to be devastating.”
More than 1,100 former St. Clare's employees learned last year that their pensions would be reduced or eliminated because there was not enough money in the St. Clare's pension fund. Since then, the state Attorney General’s Office has opened an investigation into the St. Clare’s Corp. and has filed a series of legal objections to its attempted dissolution.
Heastie weighed in during a visit to Schenectady on Thursday to visit neighborhood redevelopment projects, including the Mont Pleasant Library and the still-in-progress Boys & Girls Club, which is slated to be completed in October.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo generated criticism from state lawmakers last month when he appeared to be caught flat-footed when asked by a reporter about the crisis, responding he would “have to look into it.”
Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, who accompanied Heastie to Schenectady on Thursday, continues to be highly critical of what he said is the governor’s “non-involvement.”
“Where has the governor been in all this?” Santabarbara said. “He’s been non-existent on action on this entire issue, and this has been going on since last year.
“It’s unacceptable and I’m disappointed in his non-involvement on the issue.”
Republican Sens. George Amedore and James Tedisco also have criticized Cuomo, as did GOP state Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh and Assemblyman Chris Tague.
The state ordered St. Clare's Hospital to be merged with Ellis Hospital in 2008, and the state previously said its responsibility ended with a taxpayer-funded $28.5 million pension bailout it provided to St. Clare’s in 2008.
But that payout constitutes just a portion of $50 million in total state investments, including $12.6 million for legal fees, malpractice coverage, employee severance, director’s and officer’s insurance and Dormitory Authority of the State of New York loan repayments, according to the governor's office.
The state also paid $8.9 million to Ellis Hospital to offset the costs of operating the St. Clare’s facilities and hiring back its employees.
"Santabarbara’s craven and light-on-the-facts sound bites aside, it was the state who gave $29 million to help support the pension fund and the [Catholic] Church, which owned the hospital, that was responsible for the remainder and for their employees’ fair share," said a Cuomo spokesman. "We join in the concerns of the hospital’s former employees and await the results of the attorney general’s investigation.”
Representatives for employees of the former hospital have said the cost of restoring the funds could exceed $50 million.
Leaders of a pensioners group have said that keeping the corporation intact will allow easier disbursement of funds should a bailout be secured, and Santabarbara and Tedisco have introduced legislation to block dissolution of the corporation.
Santabarbara said he looks forward to the upcoming report from the state Attorney General’s Office.
“The sooner the better, obviously,” he said.