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Foss: St. Clare's pension crisis worse than thought

Foss: St. Clare's pension crisis worse than thought

Foss: St. Clare's pension crisis worse than thought
St. Clare's pensioner Mary Hartshorne speaks at the offices of Sen. James Tedisco on Thursday morning.
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ

They knew. 

State, church and hospital officials knew that the St. Clare's Hospital pension fund was underfunded by millions of dollars when they signed off on the hospital's closure. 

That's the damning takeaway from a 300-page document whose existence was disclosed last week by state Sen. Jim Tedisco. 

Officials knew St. Clare's pension fund was imperiled by a $47 million deficit more than a decade ago, but failed to publicly acknowledge or address the shortfall. The state allocated just $28 million to cover employee pensions - a much lower amount than required. 

Whether officials ever discussed what might happen when the pension fund ran out of money is still unknown. 

But the lengthy application submitted to the state Department of Health and the state Dormitory Authority in July 2007 makes it clear that officials were well aware of the pension fund's problems. They knew how much money was needed to cover the fund, but did not provide it. 

The only people who weren't aware of the pension fund's woeful state were the pensioners themselves. 

They learned of it last year, when they were informed their pensions would be eliminated or greatly reduced. 

Ever since, there's been a galling lack of accountability, as every institution involved in the merger of Ellis Hospital and St. Clare's has denied that they have any obligation to help the pensioners. 

Most frustrating has been the refusal of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany to acknowledge its responsibility for a hospital that it operated and oversaw. 

The document makes it clear that the state also has a lot to answer for.

Certainly, it suggests that more investigation is needed, and that state Attorney General Letitia James should continue her probe. 

The collapse of the St. Clare's pension fund has always been a shameful example of how poor decision-making and a lack of accountability can combine to throw people's lives into turmoil. 

Unfortunately, the situation is even worse than we thought. 

Officials could have spent the past decade trying to figure out how to fix the pension fund. They could have been honest with the 1,000-plus retirees about the challenges ahead, and invested their energies in preventing financial calamity. 

Instead, they moved on, leaving the retirees and their advocates to clean up a very big mess. 

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