JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Pension plans at U.S. companies are quickly becoming a thing of the past. For the plans that still exist, many are in financial trouble. You can now add Singing River Health System to the list. County supervisors are concerned about the future of the retirement system, and hospital officials are searching for answers.
Singing River Health System belongs to Jackson County, and employs about 2,400 people. Hundreds more have retired, but a cloud of doubt hangs over the future of the plan. Supervisors have taken note.
"This is our hospital. This is Singing River Hospital and we've got to do the best we can to make sure it gets back," Supervisor Melton Harris said. "We know that there are financial difficulties right now. We're not sure on how we can get our hands around all of them."
Employees who work 25 years at the system's two hospitals and other clinics can receive up to half of their pay. Can that continue?
"At this time, I think they're trying to figure out exactly what the solutions are to do the least amount of damage to the employees," Supervisor Mike Mangum explained.
Former employee Windy Taylor fears that any damage may be hard to bear. "When I reach 62 years old, is there going to be money in there that I have put in and trusted them to invest in the right way, that I'm going to have a retirement," Taylor asked.
Hospital administrators know something has to be done. Richard Lucas is the communications vice-president for the system.
"We're presently nearing the completion of a full evaluation of our employee's retirement plan. We've brought in a team of financial experts and actuaries to assist us with this," Lucas explained.
While supervisors admit they are concerned about the financial condition of the Singing River Health System retirement plan, they also say this is not a time for panic, but more of a time for patience.
"Until they are actually able to assess the plan, and look at the opportunities and in salvaging the plan, I think, let's give them time to come up with a solution," Mangum said.
Melton also promised transparency.
"Hopefully, the employees and the retirees will understand that this is not something that we're going to sweep under the rug. We'll do our very best to get to the bottom of it," Melton promised.
The pension plan in doubt this evening was replaced with a 401k plan for new hires in 2011. Hospital officials hope to address employees and provide answers by Friday afternoon.
Earlier this year, administrators said they had to write off $88 million in uncollectable debts. Also, some of the clinics run by the system have been closed, and there have been department realignments and layoffs.