JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - There is debate as to whether an investigation into what went wrong with the Singing River Health System can get to truth without asking those in charge some tough questions. Jackson County supervisors and Singing River Health System have agreed the pension plan will not be dissolved for at least 90 days while the county pays for an independent financial investigation. However, not everyone thinks that only looking at the numbers will give the complete story.
Hundreds of hospital retirees and employees said with worry about the future of their pension, it won't be much of a Christmas this year. However, those depending on monthly retirement checks did find out they will continue for at least the next three months. During that time, supervisors will hire an independent firm to analyze Singing River's financial records, including all contracts.
Supervisor and Board President Troy Ross said the board will also look for possible alternatives to terminating the pension plan.
"That's why we're doing it. We want to make sure we've covered every single option for the retirees and the employees to make sure they get the best possible deal at the end of the day. Hopefully it will come out with a better plan. I have no guarantee that it will, but we're certainly going to try," said Ross.
Supervisors said the District Attorney's office is not involved in the investigation at this point but the DA's office is on standby should the investigation reveal any criminal wrongdoing. WLOX asked Ross if part of this process included interviewing past or present Singing River executives. He said the board does not have the power to subpoena in this situation.
Ross said, "I don't know that we could use that to force somebody to come in but we have sent letters of request to ask people to come in. And as we go through this process hopefully people will cooperate."
Attorney Harvey Barton who represents one of the retirees said, "How are you going to get to the truth without putting somebody on the stand and asking them under oath, under the penalty of perjury what the facts and the truth are? Then being able to verify that through documents or other witnesses. How do you examine what the truth is? I don't trust the process without a court order."
Jackson County supervisors plan to hire an independent firm that has not yet been selected. However, the board has hired attorney Billy Guice as a consultant. Supervisors said they are also hoping to get at the truth as to whether there has been any mismanaged of the pension fund.
Guice and the board are asking hospital retirees on the brink of losing everything to trust the process. Supervisors told the angry, frustrated crowd at the meeting that they too have sleepless nights worrying about the future.
"I want to make sure that y'all understand that our position is the most important people in the room are the ones sitting right here,"said Ross. "Y'all are the ones that provide the case. You're the ones that need a voice. You're the ones that need our help and we're here for that."
Some people were skeptical at how independent the investigation would be, with one retiree even saying the agreement reminded her of "the good ole boys club."
Attorney Billy Guice assured everyone that the people who will conduct this inquiry will be honest in their findings and if there is evidence of wrongdoing, it will be pursued.
"We all have suspicions. We all have things driven by anger, and we have things driven by rationale," said Guice. "We want to cut through that and figure out what really happened. My job is to find the truth. If someone did something wrong it's going to come out and we're going to be conducting this investigation. I'm bringing in some independent people that I know and trust. That frankly are untouchable and will tell me frankly what went wrong and will give an opinion."
Meanwhile, Singing River Health System officials said they welcome the study and are hopeful it will lead to practical suggestions for retirement solutions.