Foley nursing home sale delayed; building eyed for drug treatment

The John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility on The John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility on March 27, 2013. Photo Credit: James Carbone

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The former John J. Foley nursing home is getting another reprieve from the auction block.

A resolution filed Wednesday with bipartisan backing and the support of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, would put off the sale of the shuttered Yaphank complex for six months. Officials will examine whether it can be converted to treat nonviolent drug addict prisoners, who now overcrowd county jails.

The proposal, sponsored by Legis. Jay H. Schneiderman (I-Montauk), comes after public works officials last month found it would cost $146 million to turn Foley into jail space, $30 million more than moving forward with the second phase of new jail construction, mandated by the state. That study found it would cost $18 million to convert the building into a drug treatment facility.

Sheriff Vincent DeMarco has sent a letter to Bellone and county lawmakers warning that "the current heroin epidemic underscores the need for immediate action . . . to create more long-term drug treatment options and rehabilitative alternatives to incarceration."

DeMarco said more than 70 percent of county prisoners have drug or alcohol problems. He cited studies showing that nationwide "two-thirds of the substance abusers leaving jail or prison will return within three years" if left untreated.

Schneiderman said his proposal will provide time for a study to determine if a nonprofit drug treatment facility could be run with existing state and federal treatment funds and Medicaid payments and whether such an effort could reduce the need for more jail space.

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Noting that each inmate costs the county more than $100,000 a year to house, Schneider said the possible use of Foley for drug treatment "is too good an opportunity to ignore."

Minority Leader John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset) said he supports the new study because the county should be using resources to deal with unmet needs rather than "selling off our assets so they could be turned into IHOPs."

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said he will he appoint a committee of 12 to 15 members, including lawmakers and public works, health and budget officials, to study the building's reuse. He said the measure likely will come up for a vote at the April 29 county legislature meeting.

Bellone signaled his backing of the study in a letter to DeMarco and legislators Tuesday in which he said use of the building for drug treatment and possibly reducing jail crowding "merit examination." He said the prospective buyer has agreed to keep his $11.5 million offer open until the study is complete. Some lawmakers have criticized the price as too low.

Bellone also warned that it costs the county $1 million a year to maintain Foley, even closed.

"In the end, it's never a good idea to leave a building vacant for an extended period . . . because . . .[it] will inevitably degrade in value over time," he said.

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