Crozer, nurses at odds over pension payments

Nurse Kathy Toomey leads a chant at a rally of nurses and backers last week at Crozer-Chester.
Nurse Kathy Toomey leads a chant at a rally of nurses and backers last week at Crozer-Chester. (ED HILLE / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 11, 2014

Crozer-Keystone Health System's badly underfunded pension plan is a key issue in negotiations on a new labor contract for 600 nurses at Crozer-Chester Medical Center.

The Delaware County health system wants to freeze the benefits in the defined-benefit pension plan and replace it with a defined-contribution plan, said Bill Cruice, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, which represents the Crozer-Chester nurses.

The Crozer pension plan, which had just $330 million in assets to cover $549 million in obligations on June 30, 2013, is already closed to new hires, both union and nonunion.

Its deficit - $219 million at the end of fiscal 2013 - "remains outsized relative to system resources," Moody's Investors Service said last month, when it downgraded Crozer's debt.

In the course of negotiations last week, Cruice requested pension documents and found an amendment to the plan that doubled the rate at which certain executives earn pension benefits.

For example, the amendment boosted the annual pension for a 25-year executive with an annual salary of $300,000 to $144,009 from $99,525, Cruice said.

In a statement Monday, Crozer said the pension formula for executives that alarmed Cruice had been in effect since 1998.

Cruice was not mollified. He mockingly offered management's position: "We've had a pension that's double everybody else's since 1998, not since 2012," when the amendment Cruice found appeared to take effect.

Crozer officials also said there were caps in place for the number of years of service executives are allowed to accumulate. That's not the case for rank-and-file employees, they added.

When it downgraded Crozer, Moody's cited the importance of winning concessions from the nurses union at Crozer-Chester.

Last week, hundreds of nurses rallied and picketed at Crozer-Chester, decrying what they said were insufficient staffing levels. Roughly 40 nurses took a voluntary layoff three months ago.

Crozer-Chester nurses, whose contracts expired Sunday, though they remain in effect, do not accept being cast as scapegoats for the system's financial woes.

Management missteps have contributed to the financial problems, nurses said in recent interviews.

For example, the elimination of Crozer-Chester's nursery for newborns has led to an exodus of patients, said maternity nurse Amy Cullinan.

"There are always ups and downs, but I've been in maternity for 27 years, and I've never seen it this low," Cullinan said.

Weak capital investment, which has allowed the average age of physical facilities at Crozer to reach a high level of nearly 20 years, according to Moody's, is evident to Janet Dwyer, a nurse in Crozer-Chester's stroke unit

"We don't have Hoyer lifts over the beds. It takes four people to turn over an obese patient," Dwyer said. That cuts down on efficiency, she said.


BY THE NUMBERS

424

Beds at Crozer-Chester Medical Center.

23,057

Admissions in fiscal 2013.

1,589

Births in fiscal 2013.

51,722

ER visits in fiscal 2013.


hbrubaker@phillynews.com

215-854-4651 @InqBrubaker

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