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Pols seek alternative to Foley closure

Suffolk's John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility is

Suffolk's John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility is located at 14 Glover Dr. in Yaphank. (March 27, 2013) Credit: Doug Kuntz

Concern is growing among Suffolk lawmakers as County Executive Steve Bellone's plan to close the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility advances further by the day.

Several legislators wrote letters to Bellone late last week after his $205,000 closure consultants oversaw the first three patient transfers and began meeting with the 180 employees who had just received new layoff notices. As another patient was moved Monday, lawmakers are urging Bellone, a Democrat, to consider any alternative to shuttering the nursing home because of the continued roadblocks to his $23 million sale to private operators.

"The fact that the county has moved forward and filed a closure plan is very disheartening," wrote Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport), who had supported Foley's stalled sale.

"Clearly the status quo is unacceptable to all involved, and looking at all available options could resolve this issue for good," wrote Legis. Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), who was elected after the legislature approved the sale to Israel and Samuel Sherman last fall.

Krupski's "status quo" reference was an acknowledgment of Bellone's argument that Suffolk, with an estimated $250 million deficit, cannot continue to operate the Yaphank nursing home at an additional cost of $1 million a month. Bellone has largely blamed the pending closure on the union for Foley workers and the two lawmakers who filed suit to block the sale.

But those opponents have argued that the administration never tried to run the facility efficiently by filling vacant beds and didn't aggressively pursue nonprofit partnerships to ease the financial burden of operations. Last week, Dan Farrell, president of the Association of Municipal Employees, said he wouldn't immediately drop the suit and accused Bellone's office of not entertaining any other alternatives to closure.

Reacting to the lawmaker letters, Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said Monday that it still was up to opponents of a sale to embrace privatization. Besides the sale, Bellone has previously pitched a lease to the Shermans that would allow the county to bypass the Brookhaven Zoning Board of Appeals, which has denied the county's application for a special permit needed for a sale.

"Everyone knows that we don't want to close the place either," Schneider said. "Everyone knows that the best way to stop a closure is to remove the obstacles to a deal that would keep the patients in their beds and employees in their jobs."

Negotiations continue with the union, but sale opponent Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) is stepping up her criticism of Bellone. In a letter last week, she reminded him that when he campaigned for office in late 2011, he told Foley residents that he would end the days of their home being used as a "political football."

"He's doing that now," Browning said, saying Bellone promised to study nursing home management to make it profitable in county hands.

But Legis. Tom Barraga (R-West Islip) said it was sale opponents who, by refusing to drop their lawsuit, have needlessly made the Foley saga drag on. "They're obstructionists at this point," said Barraga, who voted for the sale. "They need to take a long second look at their position, because to continue down this road, it really means the worst-case scenario for everybody."

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