In Sickness and In Health
The Mary Hibberd law, which restricts the county’s actions regarding the nursing home and other health clinics, refers to the “most fundamental exercise of municipal power in protecting the public health and safety of its residents” and goes on to say “the provision of these essential services is so vital and important to the health, safety and well-being of the citizens of Suffolk County, that any initiative to provide the delivery of any such services through an alternative entity should be subject to the highest and strictest level of scrutiny…”
But let the author of the law, Paul Sabatino, now a Huntington-based attorney, explain it himself.
“In order to sell, close, or lease the nursing home, you have to comply with the Mary Hibberd law,” Sabatino tells the Press in his trademark rapid-fire delivery.
Levy had given the legislature a 2011 budget that omitted funding for the facility. Sabatino claims that “it can’t be done through the operating budget. You need a specific proposal and plan approved by the Legislature.”
Explaining the economic necessity of the sale was Levy’s deputy communications director Mark L. Smith.
“The county-owned skilled nursing facility has required an annual subsidy from the county’s general fund averaging $8 million over the last several years,” Smith said. “That $8 million subsidy is only likely to grow as the state implements further cuts to Medicaid reimbursements.”
After paying off the debt on the building and other expenses, including transition costs to employees and guaranteed subsidies to residents, he said the county might net between $18 and $20 million for the 2011 operating budget.
The Suffolk County Legislature’s Budget Review Office says the annual operating figure is much lower, about $5 million, which deputy director Robert Lipp explained costs each Suffolk resident who pays property taxes roughly 31 cents a year. Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) has made the point on numerous occasions that it’s less than the cost of a cup of coffee.
Suffolk County has been in the public health field, in some way or another, for more than a century. It’s a record that John J. Foley’s son, Brian Foley, a former legislator, Brookhaven Town supervisor and state senator is quite proud of.
“From the 1880s with the original alms house right through to the early ‘30s when the old infirmary was constructed as a WPA project,” he tells the Press, “to the new facility that was constructed in the mid-’90s, there has been an unbroken continuum of care for county residents for almost 130 years.”
Foley says his father, who died in September 2009, “always harbored the suspicion that County Executive Levy would try to sell the place.”