Editor’s Note: Retiree Cisco Aguilar has been a thoughtful and reasoned observer and critic of the Singing River Health System pension debacle. Mr. Aguilar shares his thoughts on the most recent developments between SRHS and the Jackson County Board of Supervisors.
During the last meeting Mr. McKay, as well as two current hospital employees, showered high praise on Mr. Holland and the “new” Administration at the helm of Singing River Health System. We must now respectfully but wholeheartedly disagree with their appraisal.
Our problem with the current leadership is that it is following in the footsteps of the old one, using the same methods that produced the colossal fiasco the System is now in. In fact, most of the top leaders have not changed at all, as six out of the seven voting trustees are the same ones who actually presided over the entire debacle.
After all, it was Kevin Holland who on March 31, 2014[i] sought to lull us into complacency claiming that the pension plan was safe and sound on the heels of an incredible $88 million “accounting adjustment” announcement.[ii]
It was also Mr. Holland who, with the support from other current Administration members[iii] and with the approval of the Board of Trustees, attempted on November 29, 2014 to eliminate the burdensome pension plan overnight, writing off SRHS obligations to the pension participants, as well as their future livelihood guarantees, with the stroke of a pen and no true hint of remorse.[iv]
Seven months later, secrecy and deception continues to reign sovereign at SRHS, as evidenced by the struggle everyone is enduring to shine light on what actually happened to bring about this disaster.[v]
Even their latest attempt to dispose of the pension issue is shrouded in secrecy and reserves the right to pull back the promised contributions if things don’t go well for the System, while bullying us with the ever present threat of impending bankruptcy.[vi]
We should not trust the current leadership any better than we would a thief, because as a whole they have never had our interest at heart. Some within the current SRHS leadership are directly responsible for the sorry state of our pension fund today as they were there all along. Others are new leaders indeed, but unfortunately they continue to support the entrenched culture of arrogance, secrecy and deception that took us all to this point.
Well, as the saying goes, fooled once, shame on them, fooled twice, shame on us.
Current employees, vested ex-employees and retirees are all in the same boat and all have the same fundamental choice. We can buy the goods offered by the sales team at SRHS without even a hint of bargaining or we can press on for a “best solution” independently corroborated and that is truly fair to everyone involved.[vii]
In the absence of sufficient information to assess what this “best solution” may actually be, we resolutely choose to demand the 100% restoration of the owed benefits until and unless SRHS demonstrates without a shadow of a doubt and to our full satisfaction that it cannot actually support it, not only now, but over the lifespan of the plan leftovers.[viii]
In the meanwhile we shall continue to fight for our undeniable rights using whatever means are available to us, including legal action, dissemination of pertinent information, critical commentary, interviews with the Press outlets and regularly scheduled protests in front of both hospitals, in order to keep pressure on all who can, should or do have a role to play in the resolution of this drama.
[i] As soon as Mr. Holland took charge as CEO, in an e-mail to all SRHS employees. This is the same strategy pursued consistently since 2009, if not even earlier, by the SRHS Administration.
[ii] This announcement totally reversed the System’s financial picture despite Mr. Holland’s deceptively upbeat explanations at that time.
[iii] Lee Bond, Craig Summerlin, Kerry Caldarelli, Celeste Oglesby and Larry Shoemaker.
[iv] Without the intervention of Earl Denham and Harvey Barton and the issue of their first Temporary Restraining Order on December 5, 2014, the Administration would already have killed the pension plan which they themselves helped to starve year after year without regard for the secured future they were selling us and at the same time stealing from us.
Contrary to Mr. McKay’s accounting, our checks were already secured by the original injunction during the ten critical days before the Memorandum of Agreement between the Supervisors and the SRHS leadership was signed on December 15, 2014. Subsequent TROs maintained the status quo including our monthly checks regardless of the MOA until Judge Guirola issued a stay order based on the MOA a month later.
Only after this stay order expired on March 15, 2015, more than three months after the termination attempt was stopped, did the MOA become instrumental in guaranteeing that our checks would continue. This lapse on judicial protection was recently ended by Judge Hilburn’s agreed stay order of May 13, 2015 currently in effect.
[v] From the Board of Supervisors, through Billy Guice’s protracted investigation, to the many plaintiffs, through their consistently frustrated legal discovery efforts.
[vi] We, however, would be taking a very substantial hit for life even in the case that the future of the hospitals brightens through the years as hoped for and expected.
[vii] Just the results of secretly conducted investigations or grandiose announcements of what can or cannot be accomplished by SRHS according to SRHS itself and supported only by secret data will not do the trick.
[viii] Including whatever appropriate support Jackson County, as the owner of the System, can provide through a truly responsible and decisive intervention by the Board of Supervisors.