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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Time to resolve fight over Foley nursing home

The John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility in

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

It's time to resolve the bitter fight over the Foley nursing home in Suffolk, and it looks like the only viable solution is to lease it to private operators.

While some union workers at Foley appear to think they can stave off another effort to close the home, County Executive Steve Bellone is serious when he says Suffolk can't afford to continue its $12 million annual subsidy.

Municipalities all over the United States are getting out of the health care business, and it's Suffolk's turn now. The county doesn't have a hospital, but it does have the 264-bed home and nine community health centers. Bellone has said he would like to have the centers managed by private companies.

Bellone needlessly complicated the nursing home matter by entering into a no-bid contract with private operators Israel and Samuel Sherman. It was a bad move that early on soured what should have been an open, orderly transition that included other potential operators.

The resulting lack of trust between union workers and the Bellone administration ultimately could scotch Bellone's deal with the Sherman brothers, too.

Under the proposal, Suffolk would lease the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility in Yaphank to the Shermans as part of a plan that includes the brothers' pledge to maintain workers' county wages and benefits for 18 months.

It was a compromise that recognized the reality that staffing levels and work rules at the facility likely would have to change significantly under any new owner.

That's what's happened in such facilities around the nation -- including in Nassau County, where union workers at the A. Holly Patterson home recently negotiated an agreement that gave them job security in exchange for wage and benefit concessions.

Nassau's 530-bed facility in Uniondale for more than a decade has been in the hands of a public-benefit corporation that also runs community health care centers and the Nassau University Medical Center.

Suffolk's nursing home stands as an entity all to itself in a fast-changing health care business environment.

Kenneth Duffy, a Foley custodian for 21 years who voted no on the deal with the Shermans, told Newsday he didn't believe promises in the agreement would be fulfilled.

He said that the document he viewed was labeled tentative, and was unsigned. "I viewed it as a handshake kind of deal," Duffy said, adding that he didn't believe Bellone would shut the doors. "I feel we're calling his bluff," Duffy said on April 20, when union members voted 137-9 against the deal.

What happens now?

The county, desperate after two drops in its bond rating, is pushing hard to save money by closing the facility as quickly as possible.

Union workers are hoping for a better deal.

Residents and their families remain in limbo.

The value of the nursing home likely is decreasing as residents move to other facilities -- in a region with a glut of nursing home beds.

And all of this with a State Supreme Court lawsuit challenging the sale still lurking in the background.

In short, it's a mess getting messier, as time runs out for compromise. Nothing good can happen if all sides continue to stand firm.

Get it done, but get it done right.

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