Steve Bellone may have votes for nursing home deal

Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone says the John J. Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone says the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility is costing the county $1 million per month. Photo Credit: News 12 Long Island

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Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone appears close to having the legislative votes he needs for approval of a deal that would keep the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility open by leasing it to private operators, but some skeptics remain.

If unionized nursing home workers ratify a pact Tuesday guaranteeing their current wages and benefits for 18 months after privatization, the issue could move to the legislature by its April 23 meeting.

Bellone would need 12 of 18 votes, and a survey Thursday showed that enough lawmakers who opposed his previous effort to sell the home may come around. The $23 million sale was approved 10-7 last fall, with GOP Legis. Edward P. Romaine recusing himself.

Suffolk is facing a $250 million deficit through the end of 2014, and the lease would end the county's responsibility for an annual subsidy of about $12 million that is necessary to keep the 264-bed home in Yaphank operating.

Bellone, a Democrat, needs 12 votes for the lease because the arrangement would be presented as an emergency measure that bypasses the legislative committee process.

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Legis. Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), who has replaced Romaine, said he'd probably support any deal that keeps Foley open and workers on their jobs. "At least this could provide some security to the employees," Krupski said Thursday.

Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) who opposed the sale last year because Foley workers lacked a voice in the process, indicated yesterday that the union's endorsement could sway him. "If an agreement is hammered out cooperatively with all stakeholders, there's a greater likelihood that I would support such a deal," Cilmi said.

Others who voted against the sale appear unlikely to support the lease.

Legis. Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue) noted that the proposed deal provides assurances for employees but not patients.

"I understand the union is trying to do the best for their members, but I simply feel the nursing home should be operated by the county," Calarco said.

Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset) and Kate M. Browning (WF-Shirley) are staunch supporters of keeping Foley in county hands. Legis. Rick Montano (D-Brentwood) said he's yet to see anything to change his vote, and criticized the administration for putting through the lease as emergency measure.

Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said that "if somebody has an issue with the process, they have the power, they can vote no and say a process question is more important than keeping the facility open, keeping the jobs of all workers and keeping all patients in place."

Legislative Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook) said he couldn't predict whether all 10 lawmakers who backed the sale would support the lease, but most typically support Bellone.

However, Majority Leader DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), who voted for the sale, stressed that it's up to Bellone to offer details on the new lease well in advance of a vote. "I'm serious when I say I will not vote for something that I don't have the full facts for," Gregory said. "If [Foley] closes because they don't have all the facts for us, that's not my fault. That's their failure."

For the lease to go through, plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the sale also would have to agree to drop their legal action, and a state health panel would have to approve the deal.

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