A Capital Region State Senator says a newly uncovered document may lead to more answers as to why over a thousand employees of a closed Schenectady hospital had their pensions reduced or eliminated.
St. Clare’s hospital in Schenectady closed 10 years ago. The Catholic hospital was absorbed by Ellis Medicine following a recommendation from a state commission on consolidating healthcare facilities in the state. At the time, New York State paid more than $58 million to facilitate the absorption, which included $28 million to cover the anticipated needs of the pension fund.
Fast forward to a little over a year ago, when more than 1,100 pensioners learned that their pensions would be eliminated or significantly reduced.
Mary Hartshorne is Co-Chair of the St. Clare’s Pensioners Committee.
“This is a very difficult holiday season for us to start, to go through because it’s our second holiday season without our pension – without our lifeline, without what we worked very hard for,” said Hartshorne.
Hartshorne stressed that many of the hospital’s former employees are elderly, making the need for a swift resolution acute. Local state lawmakers have been advocating on behalf of pensioners.
Senator James Tedisco, a Glenville Republican, announced a new development on Thursday. Tedisco said that an anonymous source sent his office part of a 2007 document called “Schenectady Healthcare Unification Project – Applicants: Ellis Hospital and St. Clare’s Hospital Request for Applications.”
The portion of the document says that the St. Clare’s Hospital defined benefit plan was underfunded by $47 million as of December 31, 2006.
In a letter to Attorney General Tish James dated Thursday, Tedisco is asking if the state Health Department, state Dormitory Authority and the Roman Catholic Diocese were made aware that a $28 million payment was not enough to make the pension fund whole, what exactly happened?
“Who involved in that group – the Department of the Budget, DASNY, Ellis, St. Clare’s representatives, the trustees – backed down to $28 million, and why did they back down to $28 million? I don’t know that answer. But hopefully, the Attorney General will tell us, ‘Well, this is what happened during those negotiations.’ But she’s going to have to research it because she wasn’t there, either,” said Tedisco.
Tedisco said he submitted a FOIL request with the state Health Department and Dormitory Authority for the full document in May. In October an incomplete version of the report was returned. The agencies cited information was omitted that may be under investigation, though no further details were given.
The senator says the page sent by the anonymous source is from part of the report that was not returned after his FOIL request.
The Attorney General’s office announced it would begin its investigation into the collapse of the St. Clare’s pension fund in May.
In September, a group of advocates, including the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York and the AARP, filed a lawsuit on behalf of more than 100 pensioners against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany seeking damages for St. Clare’s pensioners.
Attorney David Pentkowski said the new information revealed to Senator Tedisco through the anonymous source could assist with additional legal action, though there are some steps that must be followed:
“We’re going to proceed with our efforts in the Supreme Court in Schenectady to try to get this pension trust represented. And when, if we can have a receiver appointed and the pension represented, then we’re going to be knocking on the Senator’s doors even more on behalf of the trust saying, ‘Please, please, please, follow through.’ And see if we can get the rest of these responses,” said Pentkowski.
A spokeswoman for the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese would not comment on specifics. She pointed out that Bishop Edward Scharfenberger did not assume his current position until 2014, but “is glad these documents are coming out so everyone can know exactly how the State’s decision to close St. Clare’s played out, especially given the fact that, as we learned today, the State knew the monies it provided for the pension fund were not nearly enough.”
The office of Democratic Attorney General Tish James and St. Clare’s Corporation president Joe Pofit did not return a request for comment Thursday afternoon in time for this broadcast.