Suffolk nursing home deal under attack

Members of the Suffolk County Association of Municipal Members of the Suffolk County Association of Municipal Workers gathered outside the county's legislature building in Hauppauge to oppose the proposed sale of the county-owned John J. Foley nursing facility to a private operator. (Aug. 7, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

advertisement | advertise on newsday

The union representing Suffolk nursing home workers has launched an effort to scuttle the facility's sale, arguing that the proposed buyers won't improve care -- and may not be giving the county a fair deal.

Dozens of Association of Municipal Employees members rallied Tuesday outside the county legislature building in Hauppauge, just before their president, Dan Farrell, lobbied lawmakers on the issue. "This is a sweetheart deal," Farrell said, "and it shouldn't be approved."

County Executive Steve Bellone announced last week a $23 million agreement to sell the 264-bed John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility in Yaphank to for-profit operators. The legislature is expected to vote on the deal by mid-September.

Buyers Israel Sherman and his nephew, Samuel, run 13 nursing homes, including one on Long Island. Terms dictate they must keep all of Foley's 194 remaining patients and offer jobs to its 205 employees.

The family has pledged to raise the level of Foley's care, but critics argue that the private sector is typically unwilling to take on the sickest -- and hence costliest -- patients, as municipal facilities often do.

The critics also point to state Health Department records that show several of the Shermans' upstate facilities received more complaints and citations than the state average. Bellone's office notes the Shermans' facilities, on average, score higher than Foley in most quality metrics.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Speaking of the administration's efforts to justify the sale, Linda Ogno, a 24-year Foley employee, said: "They should have put that much time and energy into the building."

A co-worker added that Bellone and his predecessor, former County Executive Steve Levy, didn't maximize its potential and make improvements to reduce its estimated annual $10 million operating deficit.

"I wish they would see the light. Unfortunately, they only see the deficit," said Nancy Dallaire, the co-worker.

Farrell said he hopes lawmakers independently vet the Sherman family, the process that led to the deal, and whether the county is receiving fair value. A failed 2011 sale that Levy orchestrated for private operator Kenneth Rozenberg was to net Suffolk $36 million.

Bellone's office defends the $23 million sale price as being higher, per bed, than other state municipalities have received for their nursing homes.

His office said the reduced price represents dramatically lower Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates since 2011, and will net the county a similar amount of money as the $36 million sale would have, since a state grant is being used to pay down the home's debt service.

Suffolk found the Shermans after its most-recent bid process had returned no viable buyers. A physical therapist was hired -- with a waiver to bypass the bid process -- to market the nursing home, and brought the family to the table.

"I will bring to bear my complete resources -- including legal and political -- to stop this flawed, illegal, imprudent and highly questionable transaction," Farrell said to cheers.

Lawmakers also were expected to approve measures strengthening ethics board restrictions. It was prompted by a grand jury report alleging Levy used the then-ethics commission as a "political sword" on enemies.

You also may be interested in: