JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - When asked if his clients feel lied to, Biloxi attorney Jim Reeves answered, "Absolutely. Absolutely." Reeves represents some Singing River Health System employees who recently learned they may not get the kind of pension they were promised.
Singing River officials have said the company hasn't made any employer contributions since 2009. However, Reeves said his clients got statements from Singing River since that time that say the company contributed to their pensions.
They are now learning those financial statements were inaccurate.
Reeves showed us a 2010 statement that WLOX is not able to show the public because of privacy issues. However, the financial document lists the amount of contribution that the employee made to the pension and an amount that Singing River made.
We now know there was no such company contribution.
"From a legal standpoint, it brings up all kinds of issues with fraud, misrepresentation. This is intentional conduct. This is not a mistake or an accident," said Reeves. "Somebody affirmatively shows these people that they were receiving retirement benefits when they know full well that they weren't.
People should be able to rely upon affirmative statements that their employers make about what they're paying into their retirement. This is not the fault of the employees for not looking at the details of their paperwork. They were given in almost all cases paperwork that said the hospital was doing what they were supposed to, and apparently, now they're admitting that they have not done that."
Reeves also pointed out that in 2010 and 2012 reports to the Jackson County Board of Supervisors, Singing River indicated the pension was adequately funded.
"It's really heartbreaking, because you have people who have worked there for years in reliance of the retirement, which was as advertised a generous retirement plan. They've made plans. They've stayed at the job, in many instances, because of the retirement plan, and now they're saying it's not going to be there for them," said Reeves.
Now, Reeves said some of his clients aren't sure what kind of future they'll face.
"I have clients in situations where they're afraid they're going to have to file bankruptcy. I have clients who have retired who are afraid they're going to have to go back and get jobs, go to work, downsize their homes," said Reeves. "This is devastating on a large scale to a lot of people."
Reeves says his clients are waiting to see what type of compromise offers Singing River will make.
"I think people should be given what they were promised, to be very candid with you," Reeves said. "I think the hospital owes their employees, their retired employees and those who've invested in the system for a long time. They owe them that. All legal avenues will be explored to get people what they were promised they were going to get."
Most of all, Reeves said his clients are owed the truth.
"Employees who were close to retirement, if they had known and had been told honestly the status of the retirement pension plan, they could have possibly made alternative arrangements and try to recoup some of the money. As it is, they've lost five years of their working life and five years of their potential investment for their pension that the hospital can't get them back," Reeves said.
Singing River Health System released this statement:
As we have previously reported, no contributions have been made by SRHS to the retirement fund since 2009. No one on the current leadership team had any responsibility for producing these reports. One would have to check with the previous administration to ascertain the information that was reported in those years.
Prior to the current administration, these reports were produced annually for our employees for the purpose of communicating information on our total benefits package at SRHS. No one on our current leadership team had any involvement in producing these statements, therefore we cannot speculate on the information reported.