Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone's controversial plan to sell the John J. Foley nursing home failed to make it out of the legislature's health committee Thursday, forcing the administration to seek a special petition to get it before the full legislature next week.
The five-member committee includes two staunch opponents of the sale and one who must abstain on the matter because his wife works at the Yaphank facility. Bellone's office said getting the $23 million deal approved at next Thursday's meeting is critical to the 2013 budget, which must be submitted later this month and is expected to include savings from the Foley sale.
Bellone now must obtain a "discharge petition" with signatures from at least 10 of the 18 county lawmakers. Getting the discharge signatures, however, doesn't necessarily predict approval in the legislature.
Legis. Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches) is the abstention, and Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook) is unsure if his health will allow him to attend the legislative meeting. That could mean that Bellone will need support from 10 of the 16 remaining lawmakers, leaving him a very small margin, as at least five of them are very likely to vote no.
Those lawmakers express concern about the negotiating process for the sale, the facility's ability to run more efficiently under county control and the for-profit buyer's commitment to caring for the sickest patients.
"We can debate this issue for the next three hours and would still come to the same conclusion," Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport), the health committee chair and a sale supporter, said of the stalemate.
The private operators who have agreed to buy the 264-bed Yaphank nursing home have said they'll keep all current patients and offer jobs to all employees. By selling, the county could save between $17 million to $56 million over five years, according to widely varying estimates by legislative budget analysts and Bellone's fiscal experts.
Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said the sale's failure, in the face of an estimated $250 million budget gap next year, could trigger consequences including a county credit rating downgrade.
"Given the county's fiscal crisis, the alternative would be closure of the facility and hundreds of additional layoffs," Schneider said in an email.
The resolution's tabling in committee Thursday came after public health advocates and the nursing home workers' union again spoke out strongly against the sale.
Gregory Noone, program manager for a charity supporting residents with HIV and AIDS, said Foley is one of the area's only facilities state designated to treat AIDS patients.
"The county will be a much less desirable place to live" without a Suffolk-run Foley home, he said.
Also Thursday, the public safety committee approved a bill requiring Suffolk boaters to take boating safety classes that currently are offered by government agencies and nonprofits -- or risk being fined. The bill, sponsored by Legis. Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) following the July 4 boating accident in Oyster Bay that killed three children, now goes before the full legislature.
With Laura Figueroa