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Former St. Clare's Employees Rally At State Capitol

Employees of the former St. Clare's Hospital in Schenectady took their fight to get their pensions back to the state capitol today.

About 100 people rallied Monday as the Democratic-controlled legislature wraps up its session.

In March, the St. Clare's Corporation petitioned the state Supreme Court to dissolve, claiming it had run out of money to distribute to some 1,100 pensioners. State Senator Jim Tedisco, a Republican from the 49th District, in May filed legislation to halt the dissolution of the Corporation until an investigation is completed to determine how the hospital’s pension fund, which included state money, collapsed.

"If 1,100 of the constituents for the majority leader in the Senate and the Speaker of the Assembly and my colleagues in both majorities were gonna lose their pension system, this bill for transparency to find out why it was happening would have been passed a month ago. They said when they got total control they would take care of upstate New York. This is upstate New York. 1,100 constituents in upstate New York are losing their pension system. For God sakes, if they wanna fulfill that oath they made to control both houses, the governor's, they have the voices they have the political affiliation, they control the region, but their actions are belying their words 'Don't worry, upstate's gonna be cared for.’ If they really wanna care for it, pass this bill, and we're not saying provide any funds yet, we're saying 'find out what happened,'" said Tedisco.

Senator George Amedore, a Republican from the 46th District, blasted the Berger Commission, the panel that ordered the closure of St. Clare's. "There was hundreds of millions of dollars that were disposed of, that was allocated out. That was taxpayers dollars. So this is a public issue now 'cause those were public dollars. And these are individuals who work for the public. They wanna know where their pension funds are."

Amedore called on the governor, comptroller and attorney general to bring transparency to the issue.

110th district Assemblymember Phil Steck, a Democrat, said the Berger commission saw the pension plan was insolvent before the 2008 recession effectively wiped out the pension plan's money.  He believes the Roman Catholic Church also shoulders a measure of responsibility for the pension fiasco.  "The Catholic Church just got a tremendous amount of money from the sale of Fidelis Care and from the Cabrini Fund, they have to step up to the plate and join with the state in setting this situation right."

A spokesperson for Bishop Ed Scharfenberger responded to a request for comment via email, saying the Bishop "...continues to work behind the scenes on an almost-daily basis to do whatever he can to assist those affected by the St. Clare’s pension failure. While the Diocese of Albany was never involved in the governance and operation of St. Clare’s Hospital or St. Clare’s Corporation, including its assets, liabilities and pension plan, Bishop Scharfenberger, as a board member, remains hopeful that interested parties can come together to find a solution to this very difficult situation. We understand that many are calling for the state to join this effort because of its role in the closure of St. Clare’s and its pension woes.”

St. Clare's pensioner Mary Hartshorne:  "All of us as a group together, we work together and we've taken care of so many people with or without insurance, no one was ever turned away from St. Clare's hospital. But now we've been turned away, and we're very sad and we're hurting for it. So all we're saying is, we're not asking for a handout, because some people think that and it isn't true. We're just asking you to understand that all we need is our pension. It's not a lot, but it's how we will survive.

With the legislative session set to end Wednesday, the Senate version of the bill to halt the dissolution is still in the body’s Finance Committee.

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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