Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone ended months of speculation Tuesday when he announced an agreement to sell the county-run John J. Foley Nursing Facility in Yaphank for $23 million to Sam and Israel Sherman, who own 13 nursing homes in New York State, including SunHarbor Manor in Roslyn.
The Shermans have reportedly agreed to the county’s request to let every patient remain at Foley and keep the current staff “to ensure continuity of care,” according to a statement Bellone released. The facility has been losing about $10 million a year, and the more than 200 county workers there were concerned their jobs might be cut if the county could not close on a new deal. All Shermans’ facilities are operated under labor contracts with SEIU1199 or UFCW, according to Bellone.
“This agreement protects every single patient and protects the interests of Suffolk County taxpayers,” Bellone said in a statement. “I have visited the Foley Nursing Facility and I have the greatest respect for the care that takes place there, which is why I am happy that the Shermans have agreed to offer positions to all the dedicated staff members who work there. My number one priority is protecting the patients and ensuring they continue to receive quality care.”
Legis. Dr. William Spencer (D-Huntington), the only medical doctor in the county legislature and chairman of the health committee, supported the sale.
“The fact that we can protect the patients, protect the staff and close the deficit makes this deal a home run for Suffolk County,” said Spencer. “There is great work being done at Foley and with this agreement that work will continue.”
Deputy Presiding Officer Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon) also gave the deal a thumbs up.
“After exploring all the options, this is the best course for Suffolk County taxpayers and residents of the Foley Facility,” said Horsley.
Like 35 other New York counties, Suffolk has operated the Foley nursing home as a public service. The previous county executive, Steve Levy, a Republican, had fought to sell it to a private owner, Kenneth Rozenberg, for $36 million but the sale fell through after a contentious legal battle.
Until last week, some advocates for the facility were hoping that Easter Seals, a national nonprofit philanthropy, would enter into a unique public-private partnership to run Foley, after its officials had toured the facility several times.
Terry Pearsall, the chief of staff for Suffolk Legislature’s presiding officer Bill Lindsay, was credited with being instrumental in bringing Easter Seals to Yaphank. His boss is currently undergoing chemo therapy in Manhattan and was unavailable for comment.
Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset), the legislature’s minority leader, was quite disappointed by Bellone’s announcement. He said the county was spending money to put in a new electrical system, add more firewall protection and get the electronic medical records technology up and running, while the facility has lost $3.1 million in Medicaid reimbursements because an estimated 40 beds have been empty since January.
Easter Seals reportedly had plans to bring Long Island children suffering from brain injuries to Foley, rather than go to Connecticut and elsewhere for long-term pediatric care as they do now, and take over adult day-care as the start of three- to five-year plan.
“They were basically waived off by the executive,” said Kennedy, adding that Easter Seals was “very impressed by what they saw.” He felt that given the time, the county could have made a deal with Easter Seals so they’d eventually take over the facilty’s operation, management and even expansion.
But that’s unlikely to happen now and he accused the county executive of “flipping us off at a bargain basement price to some New York City profiteer,” Kennedy said. “He’s obviating every public mission that one would have. Maybe this is the way they did business down in Babylon, I don’t know.”
His disappointment was echoed by Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), who had led this reporter on an unofficial tour of the facility last year when its fate was in ex-County Executive Levy’s hands.
“The county has a responsibility to all of its residents and of course when times get tough government turns its back on the least fortunate,” Browning said in a statement from Ireland, where she’s tending to her ill mother.
“Again, this was another behind the doors deal with no consideration or respect for me or the people I represent,” she said. “How can you guarantee that all residents and employees will stay? … There are too many unanswered questions, which gives me no comfort for the residents and employees of this much-needed facility.”
The transaction must still pass muster with a tough Suffolk County statute known as “the Mary Hibberd law,” according to its drafter, attorney Paul Sabatino, Levy’s former deputy and the former counsel for the county legislature. Named after the former health commissioner who’d fought to keep the facility in public hands, the law stipulates some 17 separate criteria ranging from quality of care to cost effectiveness that a prospective buyer must meet.
“You’ve got to jump through a lot of hurdles. It’s a difficult standard to meet,” said Sabatino, whose plaintiffs prevented Levy from closing Foley for almost two years.
“Why would you rush to judgment with a bunch of no names when you have a chance to open the door to a prominent national organization that everybody would feel comfortable with?” said Sabatino. He noted that Bellone, who’s been wrestling with Suffolk’s multi-million dollar budget deficit—which the county executive is hoping to narrow with this pending nursing home sale—has been getting bad advance from his financial team.
“Instead of getting rid of the nursing home,” said Sabatino, “Bellone should be getting rid of the people who helped ruin the county’s finances and destroy a nursing home whose 100-year legacy of caring for those unable to fend for themselves is legendary.”