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Bidders vie to take over Suffolk nursing home

Reviving a 20-year battle, three nursing home operators have made proposals to take over Suffolk's 264-bed John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility in Yaphank, say sources with knowledge of the process.

The offers were filed last month in response to County Executive Steve Levy's request for proposals. Operators have undergone interviews with a committee of officials representing the county executive, the county legislature and the health department Friday and Monday. Levy aides say a decision is expected within two weeks.

Levy solicited proposals last September to sell Foley's state nursing home license and enter a 25-year lease, with an option for 25-year renewal, to take over the $33-million building and parking lot on a 14-acre site.

Levy has maintained that the nursing home is a major drain on the county budget, costing $10 million to $15 million a year, and could be better run by private operators not saddled with municipal union contracts. Foes, including the union and patients' families, blame Levy for poor management of the nursing home, which provides a valuable service caring for hard-to-place long-term patients that most nursing homes do not want.

Connie Corso, deputy county executive for finance, declined to confirm the number or the identity of the firms that responded or comment on the ongoing process, citing confidentiality agreement with bidders.

Robert Freeman, executive director of the state's Committee on Open Government, said the identities of bidders are legally required to be disclosed, though details of their proposals do not have to made public until a final deal is reached. "Disclosure would enhance the county's chances to get the best value for taxpayers," he said.

County Attorney Christine Malafi disagreed, saying Freeman's opinions are "only advisory."

Dan Farrell, executive vice president of the Association of Municipal Employees, accused Levy of having "a personal vendetta against the union" and called it "unconscionable" that Levy "continues to be willing to close Foley and put its residents out on the street."

"My fiduciary responsibility is to the patient and the taxpayers, not Mr. Farrell," said Levy, saying that the state has encouraged privatizing nursing homes and that he will not allow patient care to be diminished.

The county, in bid documents, says it will make a decision based on "the safety and well being" of current Foley's patients, the "financial impact to county taxpayers" and "providing a suitable transition" for Foley workers who may be retained by the buyer. The county also asked the bidders to document their financial viability to complete the deal, and detail plans for retaining current employees and under what conditions.

The county legislature in 2008 blocked Levy's effort to sell the nursing home and formed an oversight committee to improve management, which Farrell said has stemmed losses to $1 million to $2 million a year. However, Corso said the complex was helped by a one-shot infusion of federal aid and faces a $7.5-million loss next year.

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