The John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility in Yaphank. (July...

The John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility in Yaphank. (July 31, 2012) Credit: Johnny Milano

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Tuesday he has reached an agreement to sell the county nursing home in Yaphank to private operators, in a $23 million deal meant to help close the county's multimillion-dollar deficit.

The deal is with Israel Sherman and his nephew, Samuel, who run 13 for-profit nursing homes in New York, including one on Long Island. It comes 15 months after the failure of a contentious, $36 million sale to another buyer, pushed by ex-County Executive Steve Levy.

"This is something that will significantly reduce our deficit," Bellone said, citing the one-time cash infusion and an annual subsidy of approximately $10 million that the county will no longer have to pay.

Terms of the sale say that all 185 patients still at Foley (which has a 264-bed capacity) must be kept there, and that its 205 union workers be offered jobs. Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said the company gave the county no indication of the wages and benefits they'd offer the employees.

"Our top priority is the patients," said Bellone, who visited Foley Tuesday before announcing the sale.

The company also did not address the wage-and-benefit issue Tuesday. Officials said they hope to improve operations and increase the facility's "fiscal vitality."

The county legislature must approve the sale, and public hearings will be held this month before an anticipated vote in September. Deputy Presiding Officer Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon) expressed confidence the 18-member legislature would produce the minimum of 10 yes votes, including from some Republicans.

"We have a wonderful operation there, but it wasn't making money," Horsley said.

But legislative Minority Leader John Kennedy (R-Nesconset), who opposes closure or sale of the nursing home, said savings the county will see through the early retirements of nearly 150 county employees could subsidize Foley's annual losses and allow it to remain under Suffolk's control.

Kennedy recalled Levy's determination to unload the facility, culminating in the $36 million agreement with Kenneth Rozenberg in 2010. Kennedy opposed that sale, but the legislature approved it in 2011. After the buyer backed out, Levy, a Republican who did not run for re-election last year, proposed another closure.

"Now we've got a new Steve who wants to basically give the place away," Kennedy said, noting the reduced sale price.

Bellone, a Democrat, said his administration looked for nonprofit health care providers willing to partner with the county, but none of the proposals were viable.

The Shermans, brought to the county by a consultant, have run nursing homes since 2006. But Israel Sherman has more than 30 years' experience in the field, said Elliot Aryeh, who administers Roslyn's Sunharbor Manor, their only Long Island facility. He said lawmakers and families of Foley patients will be invited to tour Sunharbor.

"We're talking about unmet potential," Aryeh said of Suffolk's nursing home. "We can create a premier facility there."

New York Department of Health records show that 10 of the 12 Sherman facilities for which records were available -- most operating upstate under the name "Absolut Care" -- generated higher rates of complaints and incident reports per 100 occupied beds during the last three years than the statewide average of 26.2.

Seven of the 12 facilities had a higher rate of citations issued, per 100 occupied beds, than the state average of 1.8. Sunharbor had rates below the average in both categories.

Company officials could not be reached for additional comment last night on the records.

At the facility Tuesday, patients and workers expressed apprehension about the sale.

Jeanne Melnik, 49, a multiple sclerosis patient from Floral Park who has lived at Foley for 12 years, said she fears that staff members she knows well will leave the center in the wake of the purchase.

"My one aide who takes care of me during the day, she's been with me eight years," Melnik said. "It hurts me to think that she might wind up going somewhere else because her benefits get messed up. It would be hard to build another relationship like ours."

"I started here because I need benefits for my children," said Cheryl Skalice, 26, of Medford, a kitchen worker and the mother of a 7- and a 3-year-old. "This is not fair."

With Alison Barnwell

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