JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - "It is very difficult to be here Christmas Eve. I would prefer to be with my family, but I need to support the retirees from Singing River Health System," said Susan Savage.
This year's holiday season has been more of a headache for Savage and nearly 50 retirees and employees who spent Christmas Eve fighting to stop their pension plan from being terminated and liquidated. The hospital system stopped funding the pension plan after 2009 and never communicated that to these folks.
"The hospital administration has turned their backs on us and put us in a grave," a retiree said.
To prevent the health system from dissolving the plan, retiree Howard Lee Bosarge had his attorneys ask Harris for a temporary restraining order.
Harris announced Wednesday that the case had already been moved to Federal Court.
"Singing River Hospital came in and removed the case that was set for a hearing on the TRO this morning. Anticipating they would do something like that, we had another case and a client ready," plaintiff attorney Earl Denham said
That client was retiree Kitty Aguilar, who worked for the hospital system for 34 years and is scared of losing her $657 monthly retirement check.
"I am not in the greatest of health and just didn't need this at this point in my life," Aguilar said.
Harris ended up issuing the TRO for 10 days.
"I am glad he is, but still one more step to the next one," Aguilar said.
It's a sentiment echoed by her attorneys.
"We are going to keep it going till the other side comes to reason and comes to understand that it is going to have to replace the money in the pension fund," Denham said.
Until that happens, folks here, like retiree Mike Brewster, are committed to fighting to survive this pension crisis.
"I wanted to retiree. I just turned 66 this year, and I was planning on retiring fully, but now I can't. I am mad," said Brewster.
WLOX reached out to Singing River Health System about Wednesday's hearing.
SRHS Communications Director Richard Lucas said, "There is no jurisdiction in state court, and we are waiting to hear a response from federal court where these proceedings are taking place. We will move forward when we hear instructions from federal court."
The health system has also entered into a 90 day memorandum of agreement with the Jackson County Board of Supervisors to continue to jointly seek viable options to address the system's financial and operating pressures, including its pension plan.
The TRO runs out in 10 days. Harris has set another hearing in Chancery Court for Jan. 5, at 9 a.m.