At its core, the controversy over the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility is about the needs of vulnerable residents, the jobs of valued workers and the finances of a county in severe financial distress. It's well past time that the goal, for players on every side of the dispute, becomes securing the best outcome for all parties.
What we're seeing instead is brinkmanship, obstruction and political posturing. If it continues, the outcome will be the worst one for all: a closure of the home that erodes the value of the asset tremendously, costs 180 full-time workers their jobs, and disperses 202 residents to other, potentially less convenient and less appropriate facilities.
No side is without fault in bringing the issue to the edge of calamity. Opponents of the sale of the Suffolk County-owned nursing home, including a few members of the county legislature and backers of the Association of Municipal Employees, which represents Foley's employees, are holding out for an impossible outcome. Their goal is to see the county -- which faces a $250 million shortfall by the end of 2014 -- continue to run the facility, even though operations add $1 million a month to Suffolk's deficit. They have gone to court to stop a sale of the nursing home for $23 million. County Executive Steve Bellone says continued operation of the facility by Suffolk just isn't an option. Predecessor Steve Levy also said the county should get out of the nursing home business when he held the job.
This deal to sell was made with operators who already run 13 union-shop nursing homes and have committed to keeping every employee and resident at Foley. The determined opposition is close to costing the residents their beds and the employees their jobs.
What's more, the day Foley closes, it goes from being an operating facility with a coveted, state-issued certificate of need, to an empty building owned by a county that will have surrendered that license. The value of the property will drop tremendously the moment it ceases operations.
Bellone is not blameless. The county's recent attempts to clamp down on communications between opponents of the sale and Foley residents are out of line. These residents have more at stake in the deliberations than anyone, and the county has no business limiting the information and opinions they hear.
It is possible that the specific process of identifying the current buyers and working out a deal with them was flawed. At the same time, though, Suffolk has been pursuing a deal with any and all qualified operators for years, so it's hard to argue anyone was shut out. Bellone's most recent move, to apply for state permission to close Foley and get the residents moved within two months, may be a strong bargaining tactic. But it's the kind of extreme gambit that could well backfire and force Bellone to close Foley.
This shouldn't be about which union represents Foley employees, an issue at the heart of the battle, or which politicians come out looking the best. It's about the needs of extremely vulnerable residents and their loved ones, the employees' jobs and the county's books.
It's time for both sides to back away from the cliff and close this deal to let Foley stay open and help Suffolk get solvent before the whole thing comes crashing down and no one wins.