Exterior of the former John J. Foley nursing home in...

Exterior of the former John J. Foley nursing home in Yaphank, where Suffolk County officials hope to locate a detention center for young offenders. Credit: John Roca

Suffolk County on Wednesday completed a $6 million purchase of the long vacant John J. Foley nursing home building in Yaphank, buying back a property that prompted years of political infighting as past administrations sought to get the county out of the health care business.

The county hopes to turn part of the five-story, 264-bed facility into a jail for adolescent offenders, Suffolk County Executive Edward P. Romaine said. County officials estimate renovation costs for the detention facility at up to $30 million. Construction of an entirely new facility would have cost more than $100 million, Romaine said.

“I think we did very well for the taxpayers,” said Romaine, a Republican who opposed the sale of the nursing home when he served in the county legislature.

Suffolk 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, Romaine said.

The Raise the Age law, passed by the State Legislature in 2017, increased the age that children can be prosecuted as adults to 18.

The state Office of Children and Family Services  must sign off on Suffolk's plan to use the facility for young offenders. A spokeswoman for the agency said it is working with Suffolk to identify a viable site.

Rosemary Gomez, a spokeswoman for NYU Langone, the property's most recent owner, said in an email: “It is our hope that Suffolk County will find an appropriate community use for the site.”

The state requires the county to build a separate 40-bed facility for young offenders. Suffolk has 12 offenders  younger than 18 in custody, according to county Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Vicki DiStefano.

Romaine said the 180,000-square-foot Foley building also could house Suffolk’s probation department and serve as temporary space for the police department during possible future renovations at county police headquarters in Yaphank.

“There's a number of other things that we're looking at this time, but this gives us options,” Romaine said.

Plans to sell the nursing home date to the administration of  County Executive Steve Levy, who in 2007 proposed selling the property to help plug county budget gaps. Romaine and another GOP county legislator, John M. Kennedy Jr., now Suffolk County comptroller, were prominent proponents of retaining ownership of Foley, saying it was too valuable to lose.  

Proposed deals to sell the facility to private operators collapsed, and the county in 2013 shuttered the nursing home, which cost Suffolk $1 million a month to operate as then-Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone sought to close an estimated $100 million budget deficit.

In 2016, Suffolk 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 has reported.

Brookhaven Memorial, which later became Long Island Community Hospital, announced plans to reopen the facility for outpatient services in 2018, but the project never materialized. The hospital merged with NYU Langone in 2022.

In Nassau, the publicly funded A. Holly Patterson Extended Care Facility has struggled with persistent operating deficits. It had a $38.5 million budget gap in 2022, compared with a $19.6 million deficit in 2021, according to audited financial statements.

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

With Scott Eidler

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