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Will Foley become a Suffolk legislature election Issue?

John J. Foley Nursing home in Yaphank. (April

John J. Foley Nursing home in Yaphank. (April 9, 2013) (Credit: James Carbone)

Few topics in Suffolk County have been as dissected and debated this year as the status of the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility.

And while County Executive Steve Bellone hopes to have the nursing home closed by summer, it’s almost certain you’ll continue hearing about the issue well into the fall – when all 18 seats on the county legislature are up for election.

The Legislature’s Minority Leader, John Kennedy (R-Nesconset), fired the first shot late last week when he predicted that the 10 mostly Democratic lawmakers who voted to sell the Yaphank facility would be vulnerable in November.

“He’s put the well-being and success of many legislators in jeopardy,” Kennedy said of Bellone, a Democrat who orchestrated Foley’s failed $23 million sale last fall to private operators Israel and Samuel Sherman.

That prompted Majority Leader DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) to fire back yesterday with a statement that accused Kennedy of politicizing the nursing home issue and “(intimidating) members of my caucus with bogus threats over voter backlash.”

Foley’s sale failed mostly because a group of privatization opponents, led by Kennedy, Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) and nursing home workers, sued to block it. They claimed Bellone failed to follow proper procedure in conducting the sale, and asserted that the buyers’ would stop accepting more-costly, hard-to-care-for patients.

Bellone and the union for nursing home workers then came up with a deal to lease the facility to the Shermas, but the workers last month rejected that, too, claiming it would have set bad precedent for them to support privatization of public functions.

With Foley set for closure, Bellone’s office has placed blame on Kennedy, Browning and the workers, saying that their efforts to keep the nursing home publicly run will displace 200 residents and end up costing the cash-strapped county $23 million in sale revenue and about $7 million in 2013 operating costs.

But the privatization opponents insist that Suffolk could have run Foley without financial loss if it had worked to fill empty beds and make the facility more efficient.

Kennedy added that legislators who supported Bellone’s “bad deal,” would have to answer to voters who he said would have favored a continued public nursing home.

In response, a county Democrat noted that Republicans on the Legislature now have a 13-5 disadvantage. “I’m glad the architect of the Republicans’ five-seat minority is offering political advice,” said the official.

And Gregory said that statistics show patients of Foley over the past 13 years have largely come from Brookhaven town, most of which is represented by legislators who either voted with Kennedy to oppose a sale or weren’t yet on the legislature.

So Democratic lawmakers representing Suffolk’s western towns, Gregory said, were no more at risk because of the nursing home issue, since so few of their constituents were patients at the facility.

“Personally, I think it shows poor judgment to make a campaign issue out of this,” Gregory said. “But aside even from that, John’s ominous sounding election threats just aren’t supported by the statistics.”

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