Why the problems at a hospital in Jackson County are a statewide problem
The only real daily newspaper on the Mississippi Gulf Coast is the Sun Herald. In the newspaper’s reporting and editorials, it has done an excellent job in the best tradition of first-rate journalism. Some readers may ask why this writer and others have devoted a lot of time to an issue that some think is not a statewide problem. Singing River Health Systems (SRHS) in Jackson County is a county-owned hospital system. The secrecy and lack of financial accountability at SRHS is an issue that is important to dozens of other county-owned hospital systems in Mississippi. Sadly enough, if the problems at SRHS had not become such a major issue for hospital retirees, employees, and the taxpayers of Jackson County, the Mississippi Legislature this past session would not have passed a bill to remove the exemptions of county-owned hospitals from the state’s open meetings and public records laws. Many keep hoping to see positive developments on the issue. That is just not happening.
Last week the hospital trustees and officials released the details of a new proposal to save the underfunded pension plan. Active employees enrolled in the plan would be eligible for a retirement plan when they reach age 67 and the benefit would be about 88 percent of what was originally promised retirees. This proposal, which still must be approved by the courts, is still a slap in the face to the retirees and taxpayers of Jackson County. For example, an employee who had been with the system for more than 30 years could have previously retired at an earlier age and received a pension higher than the proposed 88 percent they would get now. But on the heels of the pension plan announcement by hospital officials, in just a matter of days, county supervisors said they will release the “full story” explaining what happened financially at the hospital and the failed pension plan. The footnote was they would explain what they can “legally reveal.” How bogus.
Should include hospital trustees, hospital administrators and some county supervisors
There has always been some speculation that those involved in the Singing River Health System mess keep hoping that they can kick the can down the road and eventually the controversy will go away or the citizens of Jackson County will tire of it. I don’t think that’s going to be the case, and it certainly should not be the case. Despite those officials that would like to convince the citizens of Jackson County otherwise, the mess just keeps getting worse.
The latest chapter was last Friday when SRHS announced a loss of $4.8 million for the first six months of the current fiscal year and in order to save money the hospital was eliminating 14 positions and reducing some employee benefits. The spokesperson for SRHS told The Sun Herald newspaper that the system has been “belt-tightening and growing revenues” for the past six months. Remember, this is the hospital system that stopped contributing to the employee pension plan in 2009 but didn’t tell employees. This is the hospital system that spent almost $60,000 in both 2012 and 2013 for so-called “retreats.” For about three weeks I have had a copy of the Horne audit of SRHS that is dated March 6. The audit covers fiscal years ending Sept. 30, 2014 and 2013. The bottom line is “loss from operations” was $30.8 million for 2014 and $30.5 million for 2013. There are many things in the audit that taxpayers will find interesting. There is even talk that SRHS officials will ask supervisors for a millage increase to support the hospital. It got worse on Monday at the board of supervisors meeting when board President Barry Cumbest announced new ground rules for public comments. Cumbest said the decision was the result of advice from board attorney Paula Yancey. Rightfully so, SRHS retirees were furious with the supervisors’ new rules that limit public comment and response to questions. In effect, the supervisors said they have no obligation to listen to the citizens and taxpayers that elected them.