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State Lawmakers Meet With Bishop To Address Schenectady Hospital Pension Crisis

Senator Jim Tedisco and Assemblyman Angelo Santabara with St. Clare's pensioners.
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Senator Jim Tedisco and Assemblyman Angelo Santabara with St. Clare's pensioners.

Lawmakers met with Bishop Ed Scharfenberger of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany at the capitol Friday in an effort to address the pension collapse involving the former St. Clare's Hospital.

St. Clare's, in Schenectady, was shuttered in 2008 as part of a state-ordered consolidation. Retirees recently saw their monthly pension payments cut or eliminated after the hospital board said the pension fund was nearly bankrupt. State Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara says a budget request has been made for $42 million and hopes additional funding could come from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation.

"Leaving this meeting the Bishop had agreed that he would go forward, contact Prudential, contact the attorney, the board at the Cabrini Foundation to arrange a similar meeting where we could have a continued discussion on this on what our plan is and what we would need from all parties to make this a viable plan. So everybody has some homework I guess," said Santabarbara.

Santabarbara, state Senator Jim Tedisco and Bishop Scharfenberger met with a committee of St. Clare’s pensioners behind closed doors. Mary Hartshorne is one of them.      "It's important for people to know that we worked so hard for this for years and years and we deserve it. However, with the limitations with each area has limitations that we've decided that wee could agree on something and we're all gonna work together toward it. I can't tell you how much all of this means to us."

Tedisco says Scharfenberger, who did not speak at Friday’s press conference, expressed his concerns. But there's a roadblock: the pension company won't disclose how many people are affected by the pension collapse.   "Now there's some discussion about the fact that we're gonna set precedent if we get state money. Well this is a little bit different case than bailing out pensioners from a pension system. The state of New York was involved. They were right-sizing their health-care system. They had a Berger Commission. They said St. Clare's hospital, who provided for the sickest and the lowest income individuals time and time again, who did not receive payments in many instances but kept caring for those people, they were the one hospital, maybe in this entire Capital District area, certainly in Schenectady County in that region, who were taking care of patients who probably couldn't afford to pay or could afford to pay a limited amount. And now you've got 1,100 or more citizens who are either being reduced drastically with their pension that they were promised, or a good portion of them not receiving any of their pension. That's totally unacceptable."

Tedisco said given the state is offering $3 billion in tax breaks to Amazon, he'd rather give them 2-point-nine-nine-five and put the rest toward the pension. 

Santabarbara says the $42 million number needs to be confirmed and expects additional meetings will be held between now and April 1st when the budget is due.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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