The Singing River Health System, a county-owned hospital system, was showing signs of financial problems in summer 2013. But still it held its annual strategic planning retreat at the Grand Hotel in Point Clear, Ala.

Hospital system leaders were planning the retreat even as they were trying to scrape up money for cash on hand with a $3 million short-term bank loan.

The retreat — with families, a jazz band, baby-sitters and alcohol — was held even though the hospital system had made a tough decision not to contribute to its employee-retirement plan, something it chose not to tell its 2,400 employees and 600 retirees.

It did, however, continue to deduct money from employees’ paychecks for the retirement plan — 3 percent of their income. But that wasn’t enough to keep the retirement viable. In late October, the hospitals’ CEO announced the plan lacked almost $150 million and has offered to return employees’ contributions with interest. Employees, however, had been counting on a fixed retirement income for life.

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