Employee lay-offs continue hitting at Pemiscot Memorial Health Systems and some employees are questioning benefit issues and asking for help form the state of Missouri’s highest legal authority. A petition has been started on Change.org asking Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster to investigate possible mishandling of retirement funds.
The funds in question are the matching funds that PMHS had been paying in on the employees’ retirement to the state retirement agency Lagers. At a Board meeting Thursday night, the Board indicated that the matching funds were in arrears and not paid. While PMHS is not required to match funds, the employees were not notified at any time that the matching funds were not being paid in.
A spokesperson for Lagers would neither confirm nor deny how far behind the hospital is in these payments but did confirm Friday that they are in “constant communication” with the healthcare entity concerning retirement benefit payments.
The petition has gained around 150 signatures in less than 24 hours, many of them employees at the hospital. The signers have also left comments asking for a state audit of the county hospital and pointing out potential conflicts of interest between the hospital and some of the Board. One specific issue being discussed is the Board’s decision to privatize the hospital billing recently and move it to a company that a Board member has significant interest in.
The employees began receiving lay-off notices yesterday after the hospital cited at least four million dollars in debt owed. Part of that debt is the matching retirement funds. The hospital is also self-insured and the Board told employees that some of their medical bills were included in that debt, leaving employees to wonder if they will have to pay already accrued medical expenses out of their own pockets on top of the medical insurance fees withheld from their checks.
The debt riddled institution has been paring back employee benefits for the past several months. Employees lost up to 70 sick days they had accrued when the Hospital Board dropped the maximum amount to 20, without grandfathering in or paying out the days that were already on the books. The employees also took an across the board hit on paying in health insurance benefits, even though the facility is self-insured. When lay-offs began yesterday, no firm furlough date was given, but since then many employees have been told their last day will be Tuesday, August 20, 2013.
The hospital employed around 300 people before the lay-offs began and is considered one of the impoverished county’s biggest employers. The hospital serves many uninsured and under insured citizens and county officials are concerned that if the debt leads to the closure of the facility, a significant part of the population may have nowhere to receive necessary healthcare services.