S.R.H.S. Responds to Lawsuit Filed by Former Employee

Singing River Health System (S.R.H.S.) claims it could have overpaid retirement benefits of a former nurse who worked for the hospital for 17 years, and that she owes them money. This is according to a response filed Tuesday by attorneys for S.R.H.S. The county owned hospital is being sued by former employee, Cynthia Almond, and others, who hope the health system will make good on the retirement plans they paid into and the benefits they say were promised.

There’s a lot at stake as attorneys from both sides battle it out over employees’ pension plans, and just how much money in benefits, if any, Singing River should pay them, as the health system deals with a financial crisis and multi-million dollar short fall that some believe could shut down some, if not all, of the services provided through S.R.H.S.

Almond wants S.R.H.S. to make good on the pension fund she paid into during her 17 years of employment there. In Tuesday’s court filing in response to her lawsuit, the health system claims that they owe her nothing and that she may actually owe them. News 25 asked Almond’s attorney, Harvey Barton, about this. Harvey says, "I’m not aware of any sums that she’s been overpaid. I think they’re alleging that generally just in case that were the case."

Richard Lucas of Singing River says this type of response is typical in a case like this, telling News 25: "We are not in any way asking for money from Ms. Almond. It’s just a legal tactic that is used in every case of this nature."

Harvey also says, "Kinda’ the same way that someone that is caught red handed in the middle of a crime and the court asks them how do they plea, the first plea they enter is not guilty. When the whole world knows that they are, it’s what lawyers do, they never confess that they’ve done something wrong."

District Court Judge, Louis Guirola, will soon rule on whether the lawsuits will be handled in state or federal court. Barton and co-counsel, Earl Denham, want to keep the trials in state court so they can continue filing temporary restraining orders to keep Singing River from terminating the entire plan.

The health system disagrees, as reflected in another written response to News 25’s request for an interview, which reads, in part: "Plaintiffs’ counsel has expressed their desire to file multiple complaints and T.R.O.s regarding the S.R.H.S. retirement plan litigation. We have filed a request for injunction under the All Writs Act, under which the federal court is authorized to enjoin future filings in state court, such as the ones referenced above. Singing River Health System feels strongly that these matters belong in federal court, and we are awaiting instructions from that court."

There is no word yet on when Judge Guriola will rule on the venue. In the meantime, plaintiffs’ attorneys say they’ll continue to fight to recoup about $140 million in pension plan benefits their clients were promised. Barton closes, "They’re worried to death and I can’t console them by telling them not to worry, not to lose sleep, not to you know, worry about how they’ll buy Christmas and pay house notes and electric bill because this is a serious problem."

Barton says he will be in Judge Neil Harris’ courtroom on Monday representing another retiree, although the court can’t move forward until Judge Guirola makes his decision.

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