PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - It was a packed house with retirees by the dozens listening intently. Judge Breland Hilburn said he was pleased with the progress in the settlement talks.
He also added something else, according to retiree Cynthia Almond.
"The judge said he wanted to be fair to the employees as well as the hospital. Well, the hospital has not been fair to us, so I have very little sympathy for the hospital," Almond lamented.
For quite some time now, we've been hearing the pension plan could possibly be funded at 100 percent, but what we heard Tuesday in court makes that not necessarily true. Kelly Sessoms is the attorney for the health system.
"The contributions that weren't made, 100 percent of those will be made, according to the terms of the settlement. There could be an issue as to 100 percent of the expected benefits paid out over time, and those numbers are still being looked at," Sessoms explained.
That was something retirees did not want to hear. One of them is Glenda Smith.
"I feel very disappointed, because I feel like that if they are going to try and pay the money back, they need to fix it to where we do get 100 percent," said Smith.
Almost every retiree felt the same way, including Melba Richardson.
"I don't think that's fair. I don't think that's right, because if they had not done what they did by stopping the retirement fund, we wouldn't be in this position today," said Richardson.
"I want all of us to get our 100 percent with no questions. Give it to us, because we deserve it," said retiree Mary Waltman.
Attorney Jim Reeves, who is helping to broker the deal, said this may be the best the retirees can hope for while saving something very important.
"It's structured in a way I think gives the hospital a fighting chance to survive and continue to provide benefits and jobs," Reeves said.
For the retirees, the only benefit that matters is a fully funded pension plan.
A final settlement could be reached and signed within the next 30 days.
"SRHS and the parties to the mediation have been working diligently to achieve a resolution that is fair to the retirees, employees and to the System itself," said SRHS spokesman Richard Lucas. "Although a final agreement has not yet been reached, the parties continue to work together to negotiate the details of a settlement."
Any retiree could opt out of the agreement and continue with their individual lawsuits against the health system.
Also Tuesday, Hilburn ruled that the Singing River Health System Foundation, a charitable organization, would be dismissed from any pending litigation.
"SRHS is also pleased by the court's dismissal of Singing River Health System Foundation from the litigation," said Lucas. "The Foundation looks forward to continuing its philanthropic work throughout the community."