SCHENECTADY -- Information contained in official documents suggest that more than a decade ago state, church and hospital officials knew how much money would be needed to fully cover the St. Clare’s Hospital pension fund prior to allocating a much lower amount.
The documents, which were sent anonymously to state Sen. Jim Tedisco’s office, are part of an application submitted to the state Department of Health and the state Dormitory Authority in July 2007 under the Schenectady Healthcare Unification Project by Ellis Hospital and St. Clare’s Hospital, prior to St. Clare’s being taken over by Ellis.
In one section of the 300-plus page document that detailed the two hospitals' plan to merge, information notes that $47 million would be needed to completely cover the hospital's pension fund.
The under-funding, the report reads, was a result of “poor investment returns,” an inability by the hospital to make the required contributions in recent years due to financial challenges, and inaccurate data regarding projected earnings from Prudential Retirement, which at the time was the actuary for St. Clare’s.
Healthcare Efficiency and Affordability Law for New Yorkers (HEAL) funding, the report continued, could be used to close the gap in funds.
However, upon the absorption, only $28 million was provided by the state for the pension fund, leaving a hole of $19 million. About one year ago, 1,100 St. Clare’s pensioners were informed that there was not enough money left in the pension fund. People receiving a pension were told their payments would be cut and those who had not started drawing a pension would not get payments.
Because the hospital was not required to pay into pension fund insurance, the pensioners do not qualify to receive payments from the government.
At a press conference on Thursday, Tedisco, R-Glenville, standing with leaders in the St. Clare’s pension battle, announced that he would be asking state Attorney General Letitia James to include questions regarding the knowledge of the pension fund in her office’s ongoing investigation into the matter.
In September, dozens of former St. Clare’s Hospital employees filed suit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany and the St. Clare’s Corp. over the handling of the pension fund.
The lawsuit, filed in state Supreme Court in Schenectady County, contends that the diocese failed to meet contractual promises it made to St. Clare’s employees over the decades.
The diocese, however, has said it was not directly involved in the pension and is not responsible for the crisis, and lacks the money to fix it.
Tedisco said that the pension crisis has effectively turned the lives of 1,110 people “upside down.”
“They’re wondering about whether they can keep their homes. They’re wondering if they can pay their mortgages,” he said.
Mary Hartshorne, once a sonographer at St. Clare’s and now a leader in the pension fight, said on Thursday that the lack of money over the last year has had a devastating effect on many of the previous St. Clare’s employees, including herself.
Older pensioners, she said, who are in bad health, are struggling to pay for medications. She echoed Tedisco’s comments about others, who have been forced to either delay retirement or sell their homes.
“This is a very difficult holiday season for us to go through because it’s the second holiday season we have to go through without our pension, without our lifeline, without what we worked very hard for,” she said.
She further condemned the board of St. Clare’s Corp. for its unwillingness to include the pensioners in any conversations, and said the new numbers proved that no one in any official capacity at the hospital had ever been interested in creating a dialogue.
“There are over 1,100 of us, and no one thought to ask us if we had a better idea than, you’re done," she said. "Three weeks and you’re done,” she said.
Robert Bradley, who co-chairs the St. Clare’s Pension Recovery Alliance with Hartshorne, said on Thursday that he wasn’t surprised that the state had not contributed sufficient funds to cover the pensions.
The surprise, he said, is lack of action from St. Clare’s to make sure the pensions would be fully covered.
“This is not right,” he said. “I would like to see somebody step up, have the courage to do the right thing and make these pensions whole, financially.”