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Lawmakers: County clamping down on Foley communications

John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility in Yaphank.

John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility in Yaphank. (March 25, 2008) Credit: Newsday/Bill Davis

Two Suffolk lawmakers complained Wednesday that the county executive's office is attempting to improperly clamp down on communications with residents of the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility, which the administration is moving to close.

A memo sent Wednesday to all county employees by chief Deputy County Executive Dennis Cohen warned that "all communications" with Foley residents "must be coordinated through the Suffolk County Commissioner of Health and the facility administrator." Anyone "seeking to disseminate information to patients family and staff" must seek approval 72 hours in advance, the memo states.

The letter warns that "failure to comply" may violate "the lawful directives" of the state Department of Health, although a department spokesman said there are no penalties involved.

"This steps over the bounds," said legislative Minority Leader John Kennedy (R-Nesconset), who wants to keep the nursing home open. "They are trying to keep us from having any communication with constituents and I'm concerned about what kind of scare tactics they may use."

Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), who also wants Foley to remain open, told Bellone in a letter that "if a constituent needs my help, I'm going to give it to them."

Bellone spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said the policy is not intended to keep lawmakers from speaking to patients, but to regulate large meetings with residents. The administration wants to protect the residents' privacy and assure that information they receive is accurate, she said.

Peter Constantakis, a state health department spokesman, said there are no penalties against such communications. The department does not "dictate who can speak to whom and what they can talk about," Constantakis said.

The directive about communications with residents is contained in a closure plan approved by the state. A closure plan filed in 2010 by former County Executive Steve Levy contained similar strictures.

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