Judith T

From 1965 until 2004 I worked at The Hospital Center at Orange (HCO) in Orange, New Jersey.  I’m a medical technologist and worked in the laboratory for 38 years. The salary was never great, but there was a defined pension plan and at least I was told I could depend on that when I retired. In fact, it was one of the reasons I remained a loyal employee all those years.

The HCO had a long, esteemed history as a conventional acute-care secular community hospital, but by the 1990s was in financial trouble because it was an aging facility with an increasing caseload of Medicaid and uninsured patients. In 1998 it became affiliated with the Cathedral Healthcare System, a group of hospitals owned by the Archdiocese of Newark, which intended to rejuvenate and combine HCO with its own adjacent St Mary’s Hospital which was also in trouble. However, the rebuilding plans never materialized.

In 1998 the HCO pension plan was financially sound. By 2002 it had lost considerable assets because of falling stock market conditions, and because it was underfunded. Instead of putting more money into the plan, as required by federal law, the hospital administrators applied to the IRS for a change to church plan status retroactive to 1998. This change in status was approved by the IRS, and meant the HCO pension plan was exempt from federal pension laws, and no longer insured by the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC).

We employees were not informed about the change to church plan status and the loss of PBGC protection. That revelation came out accidentally at a “town hall” meeting six months before  HCO closed. At that meeting we were shocked to learn not only that the hospital would be closing and we would be losing our jobs, but furthermore our pensions were not secure.

We employees believe the IRS ruling was unjust and should be rescinded. HCO was a secular hospital. The affiliation with Cathedral Healthcare System did not include responsibility for the pension but was used as a ploy to justify stopping the funding of the plan and the payment of premiums to PBGC.

Since the hospital closed I retired from hospital laboratory work. My savings have been greatly diminished by a child’s college expenses coinciding with the recession. I depend greatly on my HCO pension together with Social Security, which together allow me to support myself from month to month, meeting the routine expenses of a modest lifestyle, but with nothing left over. I have not added to savings or taken a vacation since the hospital closed in 2004. I have a part-time job in a library, which helps to supplement my income to cover inevitable extra expenses such as for home maintenance.

I worked hard for many years for my pension. I earned it and it was promised. Loss of the pension would be very unfair, and devastating to me.

Legislators, please make sure people are not left at risk of losing homes and a dignified retirement for which they worked all their lives.