Jackson County

Retirees a step closer to openness with SRHS board

Singing River Health System
Singing River Health System

PASCAGOULA -- Retirees who lost their pension footing more than a year ago are going to get a chance to communicate with the board that oversees the Singing River Health System.

The SRHS Board of Trustees already has set up an online method of submitting comments directly to the board. And it is putting into place a committee to look at letting them speak in an open forum.

It's a start toward communication between the retirees, who number in the hundreds, and the hospital board whose vote to end their pension started a massive legal fight in late 2014.

It has been more than a year of protesting and fighting in court for a fair shake and a voice.

At Wednesday's meeting, the Board of Trustees formally set up a committee to address communication with the public.

Longtime trustee Larry Cosper is on that committee. "We're trying to work with everybody on this," he said. "It's new to us."

But he said he's seen a great deal of progress in a short time.

Earlier this year, state law changed to require community-owned hospital boards to hold meetings open to the public.

Getting a public-comment section on the agenda appears to be the next step. When, may be another matter.

"We are going to have some communication," Cosper said, but there was not a public-comment opportunity at Wednesday's meeting.

Kitty Aguilar, a retiree who helps keep others informed, said she found the online-comment form Tuesday night, filled one out and has already submitted it.

This is not the same board that voted on the pension in 2014. The board now consists mostly of new appointees, put in place by Jackson County supervisors over the past year.

Aguilar said retirees have been making requests by approaching board members after the meetings. Per those requests, an American flag, state flag, Pledge of Allegiance and microphones for the trustees were set up at Wednesday's meeting.

And when Aguilar downloaded her communication form she asked the board to seriously consider replacing the legal firm Dogan & Wilkinson, which has represented the hospital through one member or another for years.

Based on the fact that many of the retirees are suing this firm because of its advice to the hospital and for other reasons, she said, the board needs to consider its replacement.

Also at the meeting, CFO Lee Bond reported the hospital now has $40 million in cash reserves. That gives it 54 days of operating cash on hand, double what it had last year. Bond covenants require 65 days.