Senators seek to protect pensions

SCHENECTADY — State Sen. Jim Tedisco and state Sen. George Amedore are calling for state intervention to protect the pensions of more than 1,100 former employees of the now defunct St. Clare’s Hospital in Schenectady, which the state closed 10 years ago, according to a news release from their offices.

More than 1,100 former St. Clare’s Hospital employees and retirees were recently notified their pensions will either be significantly reduced or outright eliminated in 2019. In some cases, people who worked at the hospital for decades will receive no pension at all.

Tedisco and Amedore have written Gov. Andrew Cuomo requesting the inclusion in the 2019 state budget of $53.5 million in funding, pursuant to an audit by the state comptroller, to cover the total benefits earned and promised by the Berger Commission in its directive by the governor and legislature at the time to right-size the state’s hospitals and healthcare facilities. Tedisco and Amedore said, in the release, that the retirement fund could be managed by the state comptroller to ensure greater taxpayer transparency and accountability and are encouraging their legislative colleagues to join them in urging executive action on this issue.

St. Clare’s Hospital was closed 10 years ago by a mandate of the state’s Berger Commission and its operations were absorbed by Ellis Medicine. At the time, the state paid $50 million to St. Clare’s to cover transition costs including $28 million to cover the anticipated needs of the St. Clare’s pension fund.

However, it has since been determined that amount was not enough to cover the fund’s pension costs, in part due to the downturn of the economy during the Great Recession, the release continued. Further, since federal law permits a religious exemption, St. Clare’s pension fund has no benefit guarantee insurance. Through no fault of their own, the retirement of more than 1,100 pensioners has been thrown into chaos.

“What’s happening to these 1,100 hard-working former St. Clare’s Hospital employees is a travesty,” Tedisco said. “These individuals did their job and played by the rules for many years with the understanding they were going to get the pension they earned at retirement, only to have the rug pulled out from under them.

“Private or public, for profit or not for profit, when New York State makes a financial promise to a group of employees as it did 10 years ago with the Berger Commission, it has an obligation to fulfill it, and as elected representatives, we have a responsibility to protect our constituents and be problem solvers and this is a situation that merits inclusion in the state budget.”

Ammeter said the former St. Clare’s employees “were blindsided by this news with no warning.”

“They worked for many years to earn their pensions, they have planned their lives around them, and they deserve a solution that will ensure they receive the retirement they are entitled to.”