Finally, after many years of county executives trying to get Suffolk out of the nursing home business, a deal likely to pass muster with the county legislature appears to be at hand. And, given the county's gargantuan budget woes, it's not a moment too soon.
The sale of the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility in Yaphank to a private operator would help Suffolk's budget by more than $30 million in 2013, between the one-time $23-million sale price and the $10 million in averted annual deficit -- and millions in the years ahead. The new operator would allow all current residents to stay and would offer current employees jobs. It's a deal the county should take.
The legislature has steadfastly resisted either the sale or the closing of Foley. But County Executive Steve Bellone is confident that the details of the sale he proposes will win the day. In fact, it pretty much has to, if Bellone is to close the gap that the county still faces. He has to present his 2013 budget to the legislators next month, and they need to approve the Foley deal before then, so that Bellone can legitimately reflect the savings in his proposed budget.
If lawmakers reject the sale, a hole of more than $30 million must be filled some other way. The painful layoffs recently completed are still fresh in everyone's mind. Legislators won't want a repeat of that.
Bellone, with no experience with the intricacies and politics of the nursing home, was careful to lay the groundwork. He examined previous efforts to extract the county from the business -- one by his predecessor for a sale, the other by the legislature for a public-private partnership to run it -- and found that none of the proposals submitted for either option were viable.
So the administration talked to hospitals, including Stony Brook, North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, and Nassau University Medical Center. Officials also tried Easter Seals, a nonprofit that cares for the disabled. All of that got nowhere.
Finally, through a consultant, Bellone connected with the Sherman family, which runs 13 for-profit nursing homes in the state, including one in Roslyn. The administration vigorously vetted the private operator's homes, drilling down below the surface of the ratings published by the state Department of Health, and found that the Sherman facilities did better on key performance measures than Foley did.
So the Shermans seem like a good bet. But what about the residents? The Shermans would keep them. Bellone himself went to the home of an activist parent of one resident to explain the deal. He also went to Foley to talk with the workers. The deal requires the new owners to offer them jobs. They are now represented by the main county union, the Association of Municipal Employees, but would likely end up represented by 1199 SEIU, the union for workers in 12 of the 13 Sherman facilities. Their wages and benefits are likely to be affected, once they move from a public sector to a private sector setting, but SEIU is hardly a weak union. They should have some legitimate protection.
This is a long-rankling loose end in county government. It's time to sign the deal, save the money, protect the residents and employees, end the impasse and move on.