Jackson County Supervisors vote to extend agreement for SHRS retirees to continue getting monthly checks

Jackson County Supervisors vote to extend agreement for SHRS retirees to continue getting monthly checks

JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Retirees for Singing River Health System maybe getting their full pension pay a little longer. Jackson County Supervisors voted Tuesday to extend an agreement with the health system by 120 days. That agreement prevents the pension from being terminated while supervisors investigate the hospital's finances.

The health system still has to ratify the supervisor's decision. But some retirees look at the vote as another step to protect their income.

Retiree Cynthia Almond, like several others at Tuesday's Jackson County Board of Supervisors' meeting, has been living in fear after finding out the Singing River Health System had not contributed to their retirement plan since 2009.

"It being terminated, that is my big concern. We need that retirement check," said Almond.

Back in December, supervisors signed an agreement with the health system that would prevent them from terminating the troubled plan. But that agreement is set to expire in March. Tuesday, supervisors voted on a 120 day extension.

"The hospital board of trustees will meet at the last Wednesday of this month and we hope they will accept that. I think that is a plus for the retirees until we can finish the investigation," Supervisor Melton Harris said.

Almond and many folks in the crowd see the benefits of an extension.

"At least we know now we would have our continued paychecks for 120 days or four months more, so that gives us a little bit of breathing room now," said Almond.

"I think the extension is a good thing from my stand point because we won't have to continue to go to court and get a permanent injunction or temporary restraining orders to keep the plan in place," Plaintiff attorney Harvey Barton said.

There are some concerns. The plan is already underfunded by more than $150 million and continuing to pay benefits for four months could possibly make it worse.

"Every week the plan pays out and no money is coming in the plan, it becomes self terminated," Barton said.

The retirees and concerned citizens at the meeting hope that doesn't happen anytime soon.

"I am hoping that when they do the 120 day extension, they would put in there temporary contributions into the plan where the employees are contributing maybe six to nine percent until a final resolution is made," retiree supporter Sabrina Smith said.

In response to the Supervisors' vote to extend the agreement, SRHS Director of Communications Richard Lucas released this statement: "Singing River Health System entered into the MOA with Jackson County in the spirit of cooperation back in December. Since we have to agree to any reasonable extension of the MOA, we will need to sit down with the Board of Supervisors to discuss the matter, which we will do in the near future. Ultimately, we are trying to reach the best resolutions possible for all concerned."

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