Suit aims to halt Suffolk nursing home sale

The John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility in

The John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility in Yaphank. (July 31, 2012) (Credit: Daniel Goodrich)

A lawsuit has been filed to block the $23 million sale of the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility in Yaphank, claiming the county failed to comply with numerous steps required by law.

The suit, filed in state Supreme Court in Riverhead, was brought by Dan Farrell, president of the Association of Municipal Employees, Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset) and Kate M. Browning (WFP-Shirley) along with two nursing home residents.

Among the plaintiffs' claims in the suit is that the county legislature failed to ratify the sale by a required two-thirds majority and did not make the sale subject to a mandatory referendum.

They also claim the Bellone administration did not follow competitive public bidding requirement to sell to the highest responsible bidder and did not comply with the "Mary Hibberd Law," which requires public hearings, as well as analyses of cost and services levels, to assure the sale is beneficial to taxpayers and nursing home residents.

Paul Sabatino, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, said the Bellone administration backdated appraisals. He also contended that the sale violated local preference laws and that it amounts to an unconstitutional gift to the buyers. "At the end of the day, they failed to comply with every state and local statute designed to protest taxpayers from favoritism, fraud and corruption," Sabatino said.

County attorneys acknowledge the purchase was done through a negotiated sale but said the process is legal because there was no interest from other potential buyers and the process was approved by a majority of lawmakers. County Executive Steve Bellone has said the sale is needed to help close the county's deficit and eliminate an ongoing annual county subsidy, which spiked to $14 million this year, to keep the 264-bed complex open.

Bellone aides say the county is looking to close on the sale by year's end and the sale would allow the nursing home to remain in operation and employees to keep working.

"This was not unexpected," said Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider, but added the county will have to hire costly outside counsel to handle the case because two county lawmakers are involved in bringing the suit. The county and the buyers -- Samuel and Israel Sherman -- must respond by Nov. 14. Samuel Sherman declined to comment Monday.

Schneider also warned there is "no upside" for nursing home residents and workers even if the suit is successful, because it would put a $30-million hole into the 2013 budget, which also has no money to keep Foley open.

"It's the definition of a Pyrrhic victory," Schneider said. "The nursing home will close, the patients will have to be sent to other facilities and the county will have to lay off more people" to pay for keeping the nursing home while plans are made to move patients elsewhere.

Meanwhile, county officials have applied to the Brookhaven Zoning Board of Appeals for variances so the 14-acre property, now zoned for one-acre homes, can continue to be used as a nursing home. It has also requested permission to subdivide the tract into two parcels.

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