The former John J. Foley nursing home in Yaphank in...

The former John J. Foley nursing home in Yaphank in December. Credit: John Roca

Suffolk County officials are in talks to acquire the former John J. Foley nursing home property in Yaphank — which the county closed in 2013 and sold three years later — and potentially use it as a jail for adolescent offenders.

The county legislature voted 16-0 at a special meeting in Riverhead Tuesday authorizing county attorney Chris Clayton to begin negotiations and make an offer of up to $6.2 million on the five-story, 264-bed facility. It would cost roughly an additional $30 million to renovate and build out the space, county officials said. 

The county is seeking state approval to use the building to house 16- and 17-year-old offenders, who under the state’s Raise the Age laws cannot be held with adult inmates. The state could cover up to 75% of the renovation cost for that use, said Mike Martino, a spokesman for County Executive Ed Romaine.  

“For time, for cost, for speed, this is a tremendous option,” Romaine said.

That type of facility would not fill the entire 170,000-square-foot space. The county is only required to build a 40-bed facility for adolescent offenders, and currently has 17 offenders in custody, according to Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Vicki DiStefano. Four are housed outside Suffolk, she said. 

Other possibilities for the building are a fingerprinting lab for law enforcement, a medical examiner's lab or office space for the department that controls mosquitoes, ticks and the like, Martino said. 

In 2016, the county sold the property to what was then Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center for $15 million after previous deals with a private nursing home operator fell through, Newsday reported. Brookhaven Memorial announced plans to reopen the facility for outpatient services in 2018, but it did not happen and the hospital merged with NYU Langone in 2022.

Representatives of NYU Langone, the property's current owner, declined to discuss the negotiations. 

Newsday reported in December Empire Equities Capital Ltd. was expected to purchase the property for $7.6 million and open an inpatient drug treatment and rehabilitation center. Company representatives did not respond to a request for comment on why that deal fell through.

Plans to sell the nursing home stretch back to the administration of then-County Executive Steve Levy, who in 2007 proposed unloading the property to help plug budget gaps. Romaine and Suffolk County Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr., then county legislators, were some of the biggest opponents of the proposal.

The nursing home was losing more than $1 million per month when it closed in July 2013. The property has been vacant since.

Levy on Tuesday questioned if the county had formally studied whether it's less expensive to purchase and renovate the building, contract with outside agencies to house offenders or lease space elsewhere.

“Are they just buying the property because it seems like a bargain or do they really need the space?” he said. “That’s the big question.”

Romaine said preliminary estimates show renovating the space would cost less than building a new facility compliant with state laws. He said the county could also use it as a temporary space for departments if their current offices are eventually renovated.

“No matter what we use it for, we would save money,” he said.

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