A tentative deal has been reached to stop the closing of Suffolk County's John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility and allow it to be leased to private operators.
The Association of Municipal Employees, which represents Foley's 180 workers, would drop its lawsuit against County Executive Steve Bellone and his $23 million sale of the Yaphank nursing home to Israel and Samuel Sherman, union and county officials said Wednesday.
In exchange, the Shermans would retain Foley workers at their existing wages and cover their health care premiums for at least 18 months. A majority of Foley's employees would have to vote to ratify the agreement.
Bellone also will need other plaintiffs, including two Suffolk lawmakers, to drop their suit and approval of the lease by the county legislature and a state health board. A lease would not require approval by Brookhaven's Zoning Board of Appeals, which has denied Suffolk a permit it would need for a sale.
Suffolk is facing a $250 million deficit through the end of 2014, and the lease would end the county's responsibility for about a $12 million annual subsidy necessary to keep the 264-bed home operating.
"A number of things need to happen in a considerably short amount of time for this thing to move forward," said Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider. "But this is the only opportunity to avoid closure. No other deals are out there."
AME executive vice president Michael Finland said members who work at Foley will vote Tuesday on the deal. "Our goal is for the workforce at Foley to remain gainfully employed . . . " Finland said. "Certainly, we did not want to lose their valuable services."
Over the past month, Bellone has intensified efforts to get the county out of the nursing home business. Citing roadblocks to the sale and the county's $1 million monthly subsidy, Bellone received state approval to close the home. Workers got layoff notices last week, and families have moved a few of the 195 residents out. Foley workers had mixed reactions to the proposed agreement.
Peter Mastando, a longtime maintenance worker at the facility, said Wednesday that the AME should continue to press to keep Foley in county hands. "I can lose my house if I don't go with this deal, but I'm willing to take that risk to keep negotiating," Mastando said.
Nurse Jennifer Abrams said that although she hadn't reviewed the deal, "I'm glad at least [AME] is trying to do something. It's disturbing to see patients leaving, and I would just hope that in whatever deal we do come up with that the mission of John. J. Foley remains the same."
Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), one of the plaintiffs, said Suffolk didn't follow the proper bidding process in finding the buyers, and expressed doubt that they will keep severely ill patients who view public nursing homes as a "last resort" after being turned away elsewhere.
"If I thought for one minute the Shermans would continue the mission of John J. Foley in taking in those residents who are being denied by other private nursing homes, I wouldn't be in this fight," Browning said.
Browning said she doubted she would be able to continue the legal action without the union as plaintiffs, but didn't say directly whether she would drop the action or not.
Minority Leader John Kennedy (R-Nesconset), the other legislative plaintiff, declined to comment.
Michael Balboni, a spokesman for the Shermans, said his clients have always been committed to keeping all remaining Foley patients. "We hope cooler heads prevail in the coming days and this deal can be finalized," Balboni said.