$100 Million At Stake In Nashville Court Battle Between Baptist Charity And Hospital Retirees | Nashville Public Radio

$100 Million At Stake In Nashville Court Battle Between Baptist Charity And Hospital Retirees

Jan 12, 2016

A major Nashville-area charity is fighting for its life in court. The Baptist Healing Trust Fund said Tuesday that more than $100 million of its $123 million in assets is at risk in a legal battle that pits the charity against a federal agency.

The sale of Baptist Hospital to Ascension/Saint Thomas in 2002 raised enough money to create two things: An ongoing retirement plan for the hospital employees, and the Baptist Healing Trust Fund.

Since then, the fund has awarded $72 million to more than 250 local groups. Recipients include big names, like the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Tennessee Justice Center and the Boys and Girls Club, plus programs for child abuse victims and recovering drug addicts. (See a searchable database of grant recipients here.)

Meanwhile, the retirement plan went bankrupt in 2012. So the federal government’s Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation swooped in to make sure employees still get their pension benefits.

One method to cover the pension costs, being pursued now, is to pull money from the $123 million in assets held by the charitable fund.

But the charity is fighting to block the maneuver in court (see the latest court filing here), arguing the government isn’t allowed to get involved with the church-affiliated pension plan

“The PBGC threat presents a real risk to how we operate,” trust fund CEO Cathy Self said in a statement.

Federal Agency Responds

The PBGC, on Wednesday, issued a statement explaining its mission of protecting the retirement benefits of 2,220 people enrolled in the pension plan.

“The plan has a funding gap of more than $100 million. The lawsuit filed yesterday by the Baptist Healing Trust puts the benefits of the workers and retirees covered under the plan in jeopardy,” the agency said.

The PBGC said a 2001 agreement guaranteed the pension benefits. 

“Our intent is not to disrupt the good work of the Healing Trust. It’s PBGC’s goal to work collaboratively with sponsors of the plans we insure.”

This story was updated to include comment from the PBGC.