Zoning board won't OK permit to sell Foley nursing home

The John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility in The John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility in Yaphank. (July 31, 2012) Photo Credit: Johnny Milano

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The Brookhaven Zoning Board of Appeals refused Wednesday night to grant a special permit so that Suffolk County's 264-bed nursing home in Yaphank can be sold and can continue to operate under private ownership.

The board voted unanimously, 6-0, without debate and declined to comment on the decision afterward, saying it would file a "findings of fact and conclusions" with the town clerk by Monday.

Suffolk Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said, "The decision tonight is an abuse of Suffolk County taxpayers, forcing them to subsidize this operation at a cost of more than a million dollars a month." He added that County Executive Steve Bellone will not allow an "abuse of this magnitude to drag on."

Nearly a dozen nursing home supporters, who want to keep it a county facility, were in the audience when the decision was rendered and reacted happily to the decision. Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley), said "I swear John Foley is looking down over us," referring to the late lawmaker for whom the nursing home is now named.

"We've won a battle, but not the war. The board clearly recognized that the county has not done its job in making the nursing home run efficiently," Browning said.

She said she will now ask the Bellone administration to assign the county's performance management team to work to improve nursing home operations.

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The ruling creates a new hurdle for the Bellone administration, which has signed a $23 million contract to sell the complex to private nursing home operators Israel and Samuel Sherman.

Michael Balboni, a spokesman for the buyers, said, "The Shermans are understandably disappointed in the decision of the Zoning Board of Appeals and are anxious to see the rationale for their rejection, particularly in light of the fact that the use is the same, just that it's going from public to private."

He added that the Shermans are "looking forward to working with the county to discuss a path forward."

In addition to a special permit, the county and prospective owners are seeking permission to subdivide the existing 14-acre nursing home tract into two separate lots.

The seven-member zoning board has held two hearings on the county's request; Wednesday was the deadline for a ruling. A special permit is needed because the nursing home, once sold to private owners, will have to comply with local zoning. Under county ownership, the home is exempt from local zoning laws.

The Association of Municipal Employees, which represents nursing home workers, continues to battle in State Supreme Court to block the sale. The union claims Suffolk did not follow proper bidding, hearing and review processes. It also contends that the county legislature did not have the necessary 12-vote, two-thirds majority to approve the sale and failed to make the deal subject to a mandatory referendum.

Bellone says the county cannot afford the $8 million to $10 million in annual subsidies necessary to keep the home operating. In the past, Bellone has said that if the sale does not go through he will move to close the complex, which would force residents to be relocated. Under the proposed sale, residents would remain in place.

Schneider declined to say Thursday night whether the county would close the facility. He said the administration will sit down in the next few days to "chart a path forward. But we will not allow this abuse to continue."

Peter Mastando, a nursing home maintenance mechanic, said "it's one small step for the nursing home, but one giant step for the residents."

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