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Singing River hospital leaders meet with Jackson County supervisors over revenues

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PASCAGOULA, Mississippi — After meeting with officials with Singing River Health System on Monday, Jackson County supervisors are still unclear about financial and pension funding problems.

"We are taking all the steps we need to do to gather all the information to find out what happened, why it happened and to make sure this type of problem doesn't happen again. We really don't have all the answers yet. We really can't speculate on that at this point," said board president Troy Ross.

But with $138 million in assets and $285 million in obligations, Ross said the retirement plan is not in the best shape.

"The hospital is a huge part of Jackson County. It is critical we do this right. It is a very big problem that we need to make sure that were are doing everything right to make sure it is adequately funded and taken care of in the future," said Ross.

Ross said one of the county's biggest questions centers on the $88 million accounting adjustment taken earlier this year after hospital system switched accounting firms.

When the hospital system moved from KMPG to Horne LLP, the issue cropped up. Horne projected that the system could expect to collect $88 million less on patients' bills than previously thought.

"We want to find out why that difference," Ross said. "That's one of the keys to this issue."

The employees and retirees involved in the dwindling defined benefit pension plan should know, Ross said, "we're there working for them trying to do the best thing that we can do."

Richard Lucas, a Singing River spokesman, said the closed session meeting was meant "to keep them fully informed and up to date as to where things are with our retirement plan.

Earlier this year, the new CEO Kevin Holland announced that the system had for years been stringing along uncollected patient debt and calling it operating income, something that amounted to an $88 million shortfall in March.

In recent weeks, Holland announced that the employee retirement system was underfunded and would have to undergo a drastic change in part because the hospital system quit contributing to the employees' plan in 2009, a move the system made without alerting employees. This retirement plan includes all strata of employees at the system from doctors to janitors.

The hospital system is the second-largest employer in Jackson County with 2,400 employees. The retirement plan has 2,383 enrolled with 626 of them already retired and collecting benefits.

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