PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - Members of the Singing River Health System HOPES Retirees Group set out to make a bigger statement than ever before, and they made it.
The group of retirees picketed Singing River Hospital in Pascagoula with one clear message: Save the pension plan.
"All we're doing is trying to get them to change their vote and reinstate the pension plan," Eddie Manning told the group before they officially began the event."
Manning isn't a Singing River Health System retiree, but his wife is. He's fighting for other retirees of the system and current employees who may not be able to retire when they originally planned.
He was one of 40 to 50 people who took to the picket line to protest the decision to end the pension plan at the same time the SRHS Board of Trustees was meeting.
The protest was calm and orderly, even friendly, with the occasional horn honking in support.
In November, the trustees voted to terminate the pension plan after the system stopped contributing to the fund in 2009. Since then, several retirees have filed lawsuits against the health system.
CEO Kevin Holland has said Singing River is losing more than $30 million a year.
The health system operates county-owned hospitals in Pascagoula and Ocean Springs, employing 2,400 people.
A stay order issued by a federal judge is keeping the pension from being dissolved until March 15. That's getting uncomfortably close for Dale Poole, whose retirement check pays for his house. He said he's ready for a fight if necessary.
"If they're not going to be fair about it, I've got four attorneys waiting right now to hook me up, but I want to wait to see what kind of offer they make," said Poole.
Ralph Drury worked with the system for 32 years and was in charge of all the construction projects. High out-of-pocket medical bills make him desperate for the pension.
"Plus our house note, automobile note, lights and water and medical bills. We couldn't survive," said Drury.
Manning believes because the board of trustees is down to six members, protests like this one may get the board to change its mind.
"We hope it will," he said. "Who's to say? Maybe we can change some hearts in there."