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Search for solution in St. Clare's pension collapse continues

November 29, 2018 11:52 PM

With fingers being pointed across the Capital Region, a local lawmaker is calling on a number of organizations to find a solution to the St. Clare's pension plan collapse.

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara wants to get St. Clare’s board members and retirees, the Albany Catholic Diocese and the Department of Health together at one table to resolve the issue.

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Santabarbara said the focus needs to be on getting the full pensions restored, and making sure this doesn't become a recurring issue.

The cancellation letters went out to St. Clare’s retirees back in October. They explained 443 people would continue to receive reduced benefits, but 661 people would stop receiving benefits after January 2019.

After working at St. Clare’s Hospital for 23 years, Lori Daviero, 62, learned she was one of the people who would be losing their benefits altogether. That was just two weeks after collecting her first check.

"Initially we had known that we may lose it after 2024 to 2028 I think they estimated that would be losing our pension, so we sort of got our head on to that subject and thinking OK what can we do now to try to save money here and there,” Daviero said.

Daviero was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in July. She wasn't able to speak with NewsChannel 13 on camera because she had chemotherapy on Thursday and needed to be home. She said a lack of progress on finding funding for the pension plans isn't helping.

“It makes us feel like we are basically worthless,” Daviero said. “We worked hard at the hospital we gave our hearts and souls to the hospital."

The New York State Department of Health issued a statement on Thursday:

"Unlike others, the owners of this hospital specifically chose not to contribute to the pension guarantee fund on behalf of its workers.  The State stepped in to help salvage workers’ retirement and contributed $50 million with $28.5 million earmarked to support the workers’ pension liabilities. The mismanagement of the pension fund is the responsibility of the [Albany Catholic] Diocese, and they should fund their fair share.”

The Albany Catholic Diocese also issued a statement:

“The collapse of the St. Clare’s Corporation pension is a tragedy, and creative solutions should be sought to assist pensioners during this challenging time. However, the Department of Health is misinformed. The management of St. Clare’s funds — pension and otherwise — was always the responsibility of the St. Clare’s Corporation, under the direction of its president and fiscal officers. The diocese was never the owner or manager of the hospital or its pension fund."

“As shepherd of the Diocese of Albany, Bishop Scharfenberger has offered to facilitate — and is in the process of developing — an opportunity for a conversation among stakeholders to surface ideas and provide a forum for discussion in an effort to give a voice to those who feel they have not been heard.”

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara said all parties need to come together to find a solution.

"Stakeholders need to come together the Roman Catholic Diocese [of Albany], the state of New York, we all need to come together and it needs to be a collaborative solution," Santabarbara said. "The priority is restoring the benefits the priority is these employees that are now being left out in the cold."

Santabarbara said he'd also like to see the New York State Comptroller’s office involved to avoid further issues.

"We also we also want to see moving forward whatever the solution is that we have oversight,” Santabarbara said. “The last thing we want to do is see this happen all over again five or 10 years down the road end up in the same situation."

St. Clare’s Corporation said the hospital alone is responsible for the lack of funding because they treated uninsured patients for years and didn't have the money to put toward the pension plans.

St. Clare’s Hospital also applied for religious exemption so their benefits were not insured by Employee Retirement Income Security Act [ERISA].

Santabarbara said he is working on getting everyone together before the legislative session begins. He said they may look to have some money allocated in the state budget, which would mean at least part of the pension funds would come from state taxpayers.

Stay with NewsChannel 13 for the latest on this developing story.

Credits

Emily Burkhard

Copyright 2018 WNYT-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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