GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - A federal judge has begun the process of finding a solution to the troubled Singing River Health System pension plan. Judge Louis Guirola will decide whether or not to approve a class action settlement between SRHS and retirees.
The $150 million settlement, paid over 35 years, would give retirees 100% of the money they're owed and shore up the plan moving forward.
In 2014 it was revealed that SRHS stopped contributing to the fund in 2009.
Guirola stressed that this is a fairness hearing. "I'm here to decide if the settlement is reasonable, adequate and fair." he said.
The courtroom was filled with concerned retirees, many of whom support the plan. Others are expressing uncertainty.
"It's not that I don't approve the settlement, it's just the repayment schedule. No one has been able to tell me what the schedule will do to retirees. I agree the hospital owes money, but 35 years from now what does that mean for me?," said David Gress.
Plaintiffs attorney Jim Reeves, who helped engineer the deal, said the settlement provides safeguards.
"No one can change the plan unless three things happen. A Chancery Court has to approve any change. The Special Fiduciary has to approve of any changes and all members will be given 60 days written notice and given a chance to appear and reject the change," said Reeves.
Attorney Harvey Barton represents some of the retirees who don't support the settlement. Barton questioned Singing River Health System Chief Financial Officer Lee Bond about the health systems ability to meet its obligations.
Under oath, Bond said he believes SRHS is capable of making the payments over the 35 year time frame.
Barton pursued a line of questioning surrounding the lack of payments between 2009 and 2014. Guirola told Barton on several occasions that the purpose of the hearing is to evaluate the settlement on its merit, not look back at alleged wrongdoing. Barton and Guirola had some contentious exchanges on that issue.
The settlement hearing will continue on Tuesday.