Never Grow Old
On March 3, the county executive had asked for a special meeting of the Suffolk legislature so he could renew his pitch to sell the Foley facility to Rozenberg. Levy said Rozenberg was expressing buyer’s remorse and wanted his $2 million down payment back if they couldn’t close the deal. Adding to the pressure was the tentative agreement just ironed out between Levy and Felice, whose 6,500 members had been without a contract since 2009. Under the new terms, union members would get a 2-percent pay raise starting this year. The catch was that it was tied to the fate of the nursing home: no sale, no contract. And if there were no contract, then public employees would start being laid off.
It was a long, emotional day that stretched past midnight as lawmakers wrestled with the issue. Behind the scenes, Lindsay, the presiding officer, was involved in negotiations with the county executive’s people over guarantees for staff and residents, and transition costs. In the end, Lindsay explained how he’d come to support the sale of the county-owned facility.
“I couldn’t get enough votes to fund it for the remainder of the year,” Lindsay tells the Press. “We had a plan in the fall, it was vetoed. I fell one vote short of overriding the veto. We couldn’t get enough votes to sell it. Simultaneously, with Medicaid cuts, they’re telling me we would lose another $5 million in aid to run the place.”
He says the signals emanating from Albany are that the state is serious about lopping off its Medicaid support, which directly impacts the county’s nursing home. The average age of its residents is 50 years old, meaning they’ll live longer and require more expensive care in the long run.
“If you go into a nursing home and you have a couple of bucks in the bank, and if you live long enough,” says Lindsay, “you’re going to go through everything you own and you’re going to wind up on Medicaid. That’s the sad fact.”
Before the vote, the legislators heard hours of public testimony that ranged from Scripture to legalese to even a reference to Abraham Lincoln. Most of the audience was connected to the facility; either they worked there or their relatives did.
Here’s a sample from Madeline Lizzol, who’s been working for the home 25 years: “It’s really a shame that I’m a union member and I have to fight against my own union to save my job… A lot of my day is spent not only nursing, but now counseling my patients from stress. Yesterday we had a going away party for one of my residents, and they cried so much because she’s been there at the day care 10 years, and the family took her out because she does not know the fate of this building.”