JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - The embattled Singing River Health System is being offered some help to improve its finances and image as it continues to battle with retirees over their underfunded pension plan.
Jackson County Supervisors passed a resolution Monday, offering to pay for Turnaround Firm to help give the health system a financial makeover that would make it more viable and profitable, something they say has been missing at the health system.
"I can't trust the hospital, at this point I don't think anyone can really," said retiree Cisco Aguilar.
Aguilar is one of more than 600 retirees whose pension the health system stopped contributing its portion to in 2010. Now it's underfunded by millions, and the hospital reportedly doesn't have all the money to be fully funded over time.
"The hospital is in a struggle right now. The team out there is doing their level best, but we still can plug any kind of holes s that will not allow this to happen in the future," said Supervisor Melton Harris.
Jackson County Supervisors want to hire a professional turnaround firm to assist the health system in improving its financial footing and fix any other ongoing problems.
"We know in order for the hospital to be sustainable for the next 10, 20, 30 years we have to have a firm that knows how to make hospitals sustainable and come in and say these are the things that need to take place in order for you to be competitive and viable," Supervisor Troy Ross.
Late last year, the county paid for attorney Billy Guice and his team to investigate the hospital's ailing finances, leaving some retirees to wonder if spending more money on research is the right thing to do.
"This is political move. Why do they keep hiring firms, why do they keep hiring lawyers?" said retiree Willie Chestnut.
Supervisors disagree. They said the goal of the new firm would be to focus more on giving solid recommendations to the health system, not just spending time sorting through files and paperwork.
"We have found what some of the problems are, and now we need a turnaround to find out how we can save the hospital and how we can reduce the cost," Harris said.
These frustrated retirees said they'll support whatever plan helps them get 100 percent of their retirement money.
"It might be a good thing if it is done properly and it might provide a degree of transparency," said retiree Cisco Aguilar.
"They are trying, they are trying, but it is so late,'"said a retiree.
Singing River Health System officials sent WLOX this statement about the board's proposal:
"Unfortunately, Singing River Health System learned of this proposal by the Jackson County Board of Supervisors through the media today, and we have not discussed it yet thoroughly. We are one year into a two-year Turnaround Plan that, so far, has reduced our operating losses from $35 million last year to $2.6 million through the first nine months of this Fiscal Year. Though our plan is not complete, our progress in undeniable and speaks for itself.
"The timing and potential legality of this proposal from the Supervisors is questionable, and SRHS has spent an inordinate amount of time, energy, and costly resources over the past year providing all the information and documents Jackson County has requested. We will evaluate this request by the Board of Supervisors in the coming days and respond accordingly, but remain concerned about engaging yet another consulting firm at taxpayer expense to do a project that we engaged to be completed over a year ago, and is working. SRHS will consider this proposal and all options, but certainly would welcome the Supervisors' help in resolving the legal disputes with the pension participants rather than hiring more unnecessary and expensive consultants,"
--Mike Heidelberg, President, SRHS Board of Trustees.