Jackson Co. supervisors butt heads with SRHS over pension propos - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Jackson Co. supervisors butt heads with SRHS over pension proposal

Supervisors would not comment during the meeting about the pension proposal, but Board President Barry Cumbest promised the retirees that supervisors will have a statement after they meet in executive session Monday. (Photo source: WLOX) Supervisors would not comment during the meeting about the pension proposal, but Board President Barry Cumbest promised the retirees that supervisors will have a statement after they meet in executive session Monday. (Photo source: WLOX)
JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) -

Jackson County supervisors are opposing Singing River Health System's proposal to fund its retirees' pension plan that's now more than $140 million in the red. During Monday's board meeting, supervisors handed out a four page statement to dozens of health system retirees that talks about how they're not supporting the proposal and the supervisors' struggle to gain access to important records. It even said the board will expose details on how the pension plan failed.

The relationship between the board of supervisors and SRHS officials is rocky. That was evident when board president Barry Cumbest told retirees that supervisors will not support the health system's proposal to fund the pension plan at 88 percent. This is after hospital officials stopped contributing to the retirement fund in 2010.

“We are in favor of the retirees and employees getting as much as they can, as long as it does not bankrupt the hospital," said Cumbest.

Many retirees agreed they deserve nothing less than 100 percent of their retirement money for the time and work they put in to the hospital.

“We are happy they did come forth and state they do not agree with the hospital's plan. I am hoping they can come up with some suggestions to better the plan and make it whole,” retiree Kitty Aguilar said.

“88 percent shouldn't be okay to anyone. I think it is a slap in the face,” a retiree said.

Supervisors didn't stop there when airing their frustration with the health system's recent actions. They also discussed the Memorandum of Agreement they had with the health system that expired last week. The contract allowed the board to get the records and information needed to investigate the hospital's finances.

“The hospital has refused to renew the MOA,” Cumbest said.

Cumbest said while supervisors can't legally make the health system work with them or make decisions, they refuse to sit quietly.

“It is time to reveal all facts it can legally reveal to the public about what happened to the pension plan, what happened to cause SRHS's financial situation and what is necessary going forward. This will be forthcoming in the next week,” Cumbest said.

County supervisors said they will also seek an opinion from the Mississippi Attorney General to determine if employee salaries paid by SRHS are public information. If they receive a favorable opinion, the board said it will release the information to the public.

After Monday's meeting, the retirees said the only thing they are looking forward to is the pension drama finally ending.

“Somebody needs to fix this mess. Everybody is getting sick and tired of it. Somebody needs to come and fix this mess,” a retiree said.

Mike Heidelberg, President of the Singing River Health System Board of Trustees sent this response:

We are very disappointed and surprised to see these statements coming from the Jackson County Board of Supervisors today since we have worked closely with them throughout this entire process, including in the development of the recent pension plan solution announced by Singing River Heath System. We have responded to their information requests under the construct of the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA). In addition to the Board of Supervisors, we have also fully responded to the District Attorney's Office, the FBI, and the State Auditor's Office, with respect to the information they have asked from Singing River Health System. We will continue to be responsive to all entities, including the Board of Supervisors.

Over the past year, our new leadership team has addressed this financial crisis head on, making hard but necessary decisions to save the future of our healthcare system. We've shown a profit over the last two months, the first time in years that we've done so, all without any taxpayer funding. We have reduced operating expenses by 9% over the past year without compromising the quality of care that we offer. We will continue executing our turnaround plan so that patients, their families, and current and former employees can continue to count on us. Every SRHS employee has worked harder than ever to execute our turnaround plan and to continue to provide the highest quality care for our community. We have been, and will continue, making the tough decisions that are in the best interests of the long-term viability of our community health system.

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