Nearly a year has passed since Mary Hartshorne and roughly 1,100 other former employees of Saint Clare's Hospital in Schenectady were told they'd no longer be paid their pensions because the fund had dried up.
"We were promised every single year on paper that we would have our pensions for life," said Hartshorne, who spent more than two decades as an ultrasound technician at the hospital. "How do you pay your mortgage, how do you pay your rent, how do you pay your medical bills, how do you get groceries?"
Hartshorne's name is the first listed on a lawsuit filed on Tuesday by a portion of those pensioners. The group, which held a press conference outside Schenectady County Court, is hoping to hold the Albany Catholic Diocese, Saint Clare's Corporation and other parties accountable.
"To have this happen means someone lied to us," Hartshorne said.
"First and foremost, we are looking to make our clients whole, we want their pensions restored," said Legal Aid Society Advocacy Coordinator Victoria Esposito, one of the attorneys representing the former employees.
Opened in the 1940s, Saint Clare's closed a decade ago after merging with Ellis Hospital. Last week, the state Attorney General's Office, which is separately investigating the matter, revealed the Saint Clare's Corporation's trustees voted to buy insurance for the pension plan more than a year before its collapse, but never followed through with the purchase.
"That's where we've gotten a fair amount of our information, through discovery in that case," Esposito said.
"One of the things I never understood was why they allowed the situation to drag on and deteriorate, they just weren't paying attention," said David Pratt, an attorney from Albany Law School who is also representing plaintiffs in this case.
Mary DeTurris Poust, a spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, defended the diocese through a written statement on Tuesday.
“We respect the rights of pensioners to do what they feel is necessary to secure recovery of their lost benefits,” DeTurris Poust said. “Bishop [Edward] Scharfenberger, as a board member, wants to do whatever he can to assist that effort. As we've said previously, the Diocese of Albany never managed the St. Clare’s pension fund. St. Clare’s is a separate corporation; its pension was managed by the corporation, not by the diocese."
Attorneys of the former employees hope to prove otherwise.
"Our hope is that the court will find that the diocese did indeed and does indeed control the corporation," Esposito said.
Hartshorne and her fellow pensioners believe the court system is now their best chance to be made whole.
"We are fighting this all the way, we will succeed," Hartshorne said.