Consultants hired by Suffolk County expect to complete the closure of the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility within two months, aides to County Executive Steve Bellone said Tuesday, even though legislative analysts say a shutdown will take until September.
Legislative budget aides estimated last week that the county faces a $250 million shortfall by the end of 2014, and said Foley's shutdown would take until September. Robert Lipp, acting budget review director, said he and other analysts in his office are "skeptical" that the home can be closed in two months.
"We thought that was sooner than humanly possible," Lipp said.
Bellone has moved to close the facility, saying taxpayers cannot afford the $1 million-a-month subsidy to continue operations. Critics -- including the union representing nursing home workers, and some county lawmakers -- say Bellone had not been seeking enough new admissions from hospitals to fill empty beds, exacerbating Foley's fiscal problems.
Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said Bellone prefers a proposed $23 million sale of the Yaphank nursing home to private operators Israel and Samuel Sherman.
The Association of Municipal Employees filed a lawsuit to block the closing, claiming the administration failed to follow proper procedures in conducting the sale. But Schneider said Bellone remains "optimistic" the sale could go through if the union agrees to drop its lawsuit.
The suit has other plaintiffs including Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), legislative Minority Leader John Kennedy (R-Nesconset) and several residents and Foley workers who could decide to continue the suit.
"They are playing hardball because they want the money," from the sale, said Kennedy.
The union did not respond to repeated calls Tuesday.
The consultants, CMS Compliance Group of Melville, which the county is paying $205,000, will have as many as 10 staff members, including social workers and nurses, survey Foley residents about their health needs and preferences for relocation, Schneider said. They will also send out notices to the 202 nursing home residents and their families as well as the 180 full time staff workers about the closing. The home isn't taking new admissions now.
State health officials have told the county that as of Feb. 7, there were 477 beds available at other local nursing homes, said Schneider.
Schneider said closing plan will have no impact on a pending $17 million state grant, which was slated to pay off remaining bonds on the nursing home. State health department officials late Tuesday could not say if a shutdown, rather than a sale, would affect the grant. When the county completes the closure, it will have to relinquish its valuable nursing home license to the state, leaving Suffolk with an empty, but fully equipped nursing home building on 14 acres. Schneider said no decision has been made on what to do with the building.
The consultants' timetable came as Bellone aides disclosed that the Shermans, at the county's request, asked the state to remove the proposed sale of the 264-bed complex from the agenda of Thursday's meeting of the state Public Health and Health Planning Council in Albany. The state must approve the sale.
"You can't simultaneously ask one agency for permission to close and ask another body for permission to operate the home in some manner," said Schneider. "At this point, we're on a closure track."