Workers at Suffolk's nursing home overwhelmingly rejected a deal Friday that would allow the county to lease the facility to private operators, increasing the likelihood the county will close it in coming months.
Employees at the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility in Yaphank voted 137-9 against a proposal containing a pledge to maintain their county wages and benefits for 18 months after operators Israel and Samuel Sherman took over, union leaders confirmed.
If the workers had approved the deal, the Association of Municipal Employees would have been required to drop its lawsuit blocking the $23-million sale of the home to the Shermans, and to agree not to oppose the lease. A lease would have been presented to the county legislature on Tuesday.
Kenneth Duffy, a Foley custodian for 21 years who voted no, said he didn't believe promises in the agreement would be fulfilled. He noted that the document he reviewed was labeled tentative, and was unsigned.
"I viewed it as a handshake kind of deal," Duffy said.
A statement by Foley workers said, "We weep for the residents of our beloved skilled nursing facility . . . we did nothing to bring this upon them." The statement blamed County Executive Steve Bellone and AME leaders for supporting a "corrupt process."
Michael Balboni, a spokesman for the Shermans, said his clients were disappointed by the vote. Since nursing home patients continue to leave as a result of the Foley closure plan approved last month by New York State, salvaging the lease deal is unlikely, he said.
"I think we're at the point of no return," Balboni said.
Bellone wants to close or privatize the 264-bed facility, saying the county cannot afford the $1-million-a-month subsidy necessary to continue operations. The county is facing a projected $250 million shortfall through 2014.
"We've been very explicit about what this means: There won't be any lease presented to the legislature and we proceed with the closure plan," Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said of the vote.
"We had an agreement that would have kept patients in their beds and workers on the job. Now, we'll do what's in the best interest of Suffolk County taxpayers," Schneider said.
Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) disputes Bellone's cost figures and says that filling all of the beds and running the facility more efficiently could eliminate financial losses. Some 165 patients remain.
"The county executive does not have to close the nursing home," Browning said. "Workers have made that very clear."
Duffy said he doesn't believe Bellone will shut the doors: "I feel we're calling his bluff."
AME president Dan Farrell said he believes Bellone's threat.
"They spoke loudly," he said of union members. "I wanted it to be their decision and it was their decision. What happens from here, I really don't know."