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Frustrated St. Clare’s Pensioners, State Representatives Hope New Governor Will Be More Receptive

Senator James Tedisco and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara
Dave Lucas
Senator James Tedisco and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara

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, the pensioners are hopeful that New York's new governor will give their situation renewed attention.

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, asking Hochul to take a fresh look at helping more than 1,100 St. Clare's retirees.

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 and vigilant in trying to help pensioners.

"For us to be treated like this is a shame."

In March 2019, the St. Clare's Corporation petitioned the state Supreme Court to dissolve, claiming it had run out of money. The pension fund was decimated in the 2008 recession. St. Clare's was absorbed by Ellis Hospital around that time. New York state did pay St. Clare's $58 million to cover transition costs including $28.5 million to cover the pension fund's anticipated needs. But a move to drop federal pension insurance protection in the 1990s doomed the fund.

Tedisco said then-Governor Andrew Cuomo turned a deaf ear to pensioners' pleas. In June 2019, Hartshorne rallied with former St. Clare's employees at the capitol.

"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."

Santabarbara says the pandemic has demonstrated the importance of health care workers to the community, and the plight of the St. Clare's retirees is deserving of a "fresh look."

"Unfortunately, what we saw is the former governor did simply not respond to the call for help. The letters I've sent out. The numerous times I have been up at the capitol outside his door with no response. What I'm hoping here is our new governor, Governor Hochul, will give these individuals the time and consideration they deserve and work with us collaboratively collaboratively to find a solution. Certainly there are a number of things that happened, there is a long history with the St. Clare's pension crisis. But these are individuals that have waited far too long, under some very difficult circumstances beyond their control. And there are things that are certainly needed to be sorted out and there's a court case on the matter as well. There's people that need to be held accountable, but our number one priority right now should be helping these individuals recover, get them back on their feet, and be a part of the solution."

Governor Hochul's office responded to a request for comment by email, saying it had received the letter and the governor would review it soon.

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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