COURTESY OF ANDREA FUHRMAN
Andrea Fuhrman retired from Barnes Jewish Hospital more than a decade ago — and then moved away from St. Louis. So she was a little surprised to get a letter from her former employer's parent company last month saying she owed them money. If she failed to pay up, they'd be taking the money out of her upcoming pension checks.
The monetary demand, in fact, stemmed from that pension. At the time she retired, in 2003, she had been given paperwork saying how much she could expect in payments each month. But now the company running the hospital's "retirement service center" was telling her the amount had been wrong the whole time.
In the letter, dated September 26, she was ordered to write a check paying back the money in full by October 15 — without that action, the company would be helping itself to a portion of her next two checks.
And regardless of how she chose to give them the money, the recalculation meant her bi-weekly checks would be smaller going forward. There was no message about how to appeal.
Now, Fuhrman will be the first to admit that the amounts of money involved are not large. She worked for the hospital for just five years, establishing its "arts as healing" program, and her every-other-week $141.57 checks don't make or break her. But having the long agreed-upon sum recalculated — and downsized — without explanation rankled her.
"I just think it's fishy," she says. "And I think it's disrespectful not to honor the promise they gave me a long time ago." She adds, "I see workers' rights just evaporating across the country, and I can't take it. Yes, it's just a few thousand dollars, but it's my money, not theirs."
In a statement, BJC Healthcare said it could not comment on any particular cases, but confirmed the broad outlines of Fuhrman's experience.
"Although BJC cannot comment on specific participant benefit details, we can share that the pension plan administrator is working with a small number of participants who were identified through a standard audit process," the company said. "These participants may see a slight increase or decrease to their monthly annuity amount as a result of this audit." The audit affected less than one percent of retirees, it said.
But on October 26, the same day BJC sent the RFT
its statement, Fuhrman got another message. This one was from a manager of retirement plans for the hospital — and this one had good news.
This time, in fact, the hospital says it owes her.
"Upon a customary final review of your calculation (along with the small group of others that were impacted by this), we have determined that your benefit actually should be $148 per month rather than the $141 that you have been receiving," he wrote. "Alight Solutions is in the process of determining the payment amount to 'make you whole' for those payments you have received that were underpaid by about $7 per month.
He added, "This payment to you will include interest."
The news pleased Fuhrman, but it also left her more suspicious than ever. After the initial letter, she contacted everyone she could think of, from the Department of Labor to various people at BJC. She persistently asked BJC in particular for its contractor's calculations — both the ones that led to her initial pension and the ones that recalculated it. "I'm pretty conscientious," she admits. She now wonders if her persistence is the only reason her adjustment is now getting, well, adjusted.
Again, what about others who are affected, people who may have been more dependent on their pension from Barnes, and people who didn't make the same calls?
"It's very suspect, and very fishy," she says.
Editor's note: We updated this story at 8:54 a.m. to include an answer to a follow-up question from BJC Healthcare about the number of retirees affected by the audit.
We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at email@example.com