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St. Clare’s pensioners hope Hochul will help resolve their long-running battle

pensioner June 2019: Employees of the former St. Clare's Hospital in Schenectady took their fight to get their pensions to the state capitol.s
Dave Lucas
June 2019: Employees of the former St. Clare's Hospital in Schenectady took their fight to get their pensions to the state capitol.

More than a thousand St. Clare's Hospital pensioners continue to hold hope their retirement payments will be reinstated.

St. Clare’s Hospital in Schenectady closed in 2008 under financial pressure, and more than a thousand pensioners soon learned their retirement payments would not honored. Now, they are hoping New York's new governor will give their situation renewed attention.

In September, Republican State Senator Jim Tedisco, Democratic Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara and St. Clare's Pensioners Recovery Alliance chair Mary Hartshorne wrote to Governor Kathy Hochul requesting a meeting. At that time, Governor Hochul's office told WAMC it had received the letter and the governor would review it soon.

Meantime, Santabarbara arranged a virtual meeting between two pensioners and state Attorney General Letitia James.

"There's an ongoing lawsuit, there is an ongoing investigation," Santabarbara said. "Some of the topics that were covered were, you know, the exemption of insurance on the pension fund itself. And we're looking into the legislative side of things as well on that, whether changes are needed, and whether those types of exemptions should be allowed on a pension fund like this, because the last thing we want to see is something like this happen again. But there's also, topic was, there was a vote to happen where the trustees actually wanted to purchase insurance on the fund, even though it wasn't required, and a vote that actually happened. So the AG’s investigation turned that up, uncovered that, it revealed that, that vote took place, but no one actually bought the insurance. So the question is who's responsible now who, who was who should have gone forward and actually purchase that insurance because if that insurance was in place, we wouldn't be in this situation right now."

St. Clare’s Hospital, with ties to the Catholic Church, was shuttered after a mandate from a state panel known as the Berger Commission. Hartshorne has been vocal in trying to help pensioners.

“I have a lot of confidence and, and really a good feeling towards the Attorney General," said Hartshorne. She is talked about her goal being that she would get our pensions back for us. And although it's taken longer than we thought, and part of that is the pandemic. We're all very grateful for everything the attorneys, and the attorney general, and politicians like Senator Tedisco, and Assemblyman Santabarbara, people who have supported us like that. We just can't thank them enough. But I'll be honest, Dave, we are all very encouraged and we will be patient enough and I think that we will see this come to fruition, I really do.”

A few days before Christmas, in a unanimous ruling, the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court rejected a move by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany and the St. Clare’s Corporation to dismiss the pensioners’ lawsuit.

The diocese issued a statement:

“While we are sympathetic to the plight of the St. Clare’s pensioners, we respectfully disagree with the court’s decision involving the sufficiency of the claims against the diocese. The Diocese, as the Catholic co-sponsor of the hospital along with the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor, did not own, control, or supervise the operations of the hospital or its employee pension plan. The diocese continues to cooperate with the parties to develop all the facts associated with the pension, its administration, and its funding.”

Hartshorne says the group remains hopeful the governor will weigh in.

“I'm not asking her for magic," said Hartshorne. "I really thought she would be interested, as I thought Governor Cuomo would as well. Just interested enough in health care workers, we are frontline workers. We're caregivers. Governor Cuomo asked us to come out of retirement during the pandemic and some of them did. The point is, we are good, hard working, honest, kind individuals. And we're, we're people in your state, many of us, not all of us. I don't understand why we don't count. It's really an upsetting feeling.”

Hartshorne says the pensioners hope their case will be resolved sometime this year.

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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