A key state health committee voted unanimously Thursday against the sale of Suffolk's nursing home in Yaphank, but the administration of County Executive Steve Bellone vowed to continue his campaign to sell the 264-bed facility.
A state Health Department spokesman said the advisory committee will vote again on the proposal next month and the full Public Health and Planning Council will make a final decision in April.
Deputy Suffolk County Executive Jon Schneider said the administration was determined to complete the deal.
"Suffolk County is going to make absolutely sure that the majority will of the legislature and executive is heard at the next opportunity," he said.
But Paul Sabatino, the attorney representing county nursing home workers who are suing to block the deal, said, "This transaction's on life support because two independent agencies have both rejected it and our lawsuit is pending in court."
The committee vote at a meeting in Manhattan represented the latest twist in the long-running fight over the nursing home.
Bellone, a Democrat, says the county, which has been battling budget deficits, cannot afford its $8 million to $10 million annual subsidy of the home and has threatened to close the complex. However, he and the purchasers of the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility have indicated they are working on other options, which they haven't detailed.
Opponents of the sale say the facility provides care for long-term patients that most nursing home operators do not want to serve because of the cost. They say the county executive's office failed to meet the legal requirements for the sale.
The Suffolk County Legislature has approved the sale. The Brookhaven Town zoning panel denied a permit that would have allowed the buyers to operate the complex as a private nursing home.
Opponents of the sale warned at the committee hearing in Manhattan that the sale would result in fewer care options for indigent patients.
"Here we had a group of relative strangers who believed us and listened to us," said Kathleen Molloy, a retired Foley employee whose 84-year-old mother-in-law is a resident there.
Michael Balboni, executive director of the Greater New York Health Care Facilities Association, said Israel and Samuel Sherman, who have agreed to buy the nursing home for $23 million, would try to address concerns about placement of indigent patients.
"The Shermans are committed to seeing this through," he said.
Earlier in the day, Israel Sherman, who appeared upset by the advisory committee's decision, said he did not know what steps he would take next. "We're going to have to discuss it further," he said.
Deputy Presiding Officer Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon) said he was surprised by the committee's vote against the sale, noting that the Bellone administration has assured county lawmakers that the state generally is encouraging counties to sell their nursing homes.
Horsley said the administration must act quickly to determine a path of action, since Suffolk can likely go no later than April operating the nursing home without transferring funds from another portion of the budget. "The money's just going to run out, and if the money runs out, where do we go?" Horsley said.
With Paul LaRocco
and Rick Brand