We need to help find a pension plan solution now. That's the message the Jackson County Board of Supervisors expressed to Singing River Health System retirees regarding their underfunded retirement plan Monday. Some retirees say the board should have put forth more effort to help months ago.
“We have all along asked y’all meet with the retirees,” SRHS retiree supporter Eddie Manning said.
Emotions ran high at the first board meeting since last week’s election that resulted in two supervisors heading to runoffs and two being voted out. The board and its attorney spent nearly the entire meeting warning retirees about the negative effects of this ongoing battle with the hospital for 100 percent of their money.
“I don't care how mad you are at them, if they don't make money, they can't give you money, and that is pretty simple. The only other place it can come from is the taxpayer to support the hospital,” said attorney Paula Yancey.
The plan is currently underfunded by more than $140 million.
“I don't believe time is on y’all’s side,” said Supervisor John McKay.
McKay said one thing that gets lost in the battle is the need for the hospital to be more profitable and sustainable sooner rather than later.
“If we don't solve this crisis pretty quick, that hospital serves a real chance of going into bankruptcy. If that hospital goes in bankruptcy, everyone in this room loses, and the only gain is going to be some lawyers,” said McKay.
Retirees at the meeting said they're not surprised by this news so late in the game, but it still frustrates them. They also pointed out that lack of communication was a major reason why they fought so hard to unseat many of the county supervisors.
“You have the same administration, the same SRHS Board of Trustees. How do you expect to get a different result,” asked a retiree.
“If y'all don't help us, we don't get any help,” said retiree Irby Tillman.
Supervisors then pulled out lists of questions to get a clearer understanding on how they can help. The questions were should they continue to investigate the business dealings of hospital, and should an independent trustee be selected to manage the pension fund.
“Yes. We need somebody who is independent and who is not tied to the coastal area, because there is too much politics in this,” said former SRHS employee Gayle Smith.
The board plans to post the pension questions that were discussed at the meeting on the county's web page in a few days for retirees to answer.
As far as the health system, officials have offered the retirees 88 percent of their checks, and that proposed plan is now in the hands of the court.