When it comes to the sale of the John. J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility, it truly is better late than never.
The county has a new offer on the table at a decent price.
The possible deal comes years after it should have happened and offers the county millions of dollars less that it could have reaped.
The 264-bed, county-owned nursing home was shuttered in 2013, after two prior bids fell through. The first and best offer, of $36 million from Bronx-based Centers Health Care operator Kenneth Rozenberg, came in 2011. Then-county executive Steve Levy was anxious to sell, saying Foley was costing Suffolk $1 million a month in losses.
But opponents in the county legislature, most notably Kate Browning and John Kennedy, and the nursing home's union, blocked the sale. As the fight went on, the economics of such nursing homes changed drastically because of cuts in Medicaid reimbursements. The $36-million offer no longer made sense and Rozenberg, having been stymied, pulled out.
In 2013, the county got another offer from seasoned nursing home operators, this time for $23 million. County Executive Steve Bellone tried to push through the same resistance, telling legislators and patients and workers at Foley that if the deal failed, the deficit-burdened county would have to close the facility. The potential buyers even promised they would keep the workers and patients for at least 18 months after the sale.
Foolishly, Browning, Kennedy and the union called Bellone's bet, but he wasn't bluffing. Thanks to a court case brought by the opponents and a zoning fight with the Town of Brookhaven, the $23-million deal died, Foley closed, the jobs were lost, the patients dispersed.
Now, surprisingly, Rozenberg is back with a $20-million offer. County officials, who had been talking to two parties with offers in the $11.5-million range after a recent request for proposals, are ecstatic at the potential sale. But the county must ascertain that the $20 million truly is the best offer. The legislature scheduled a public comment period on the sale next month, which could lead to a vote in October. That gives anyone with a better offer time to come forward.
Those who opposed past deals no longer have patients or workers in Foley for whom to fight. And Kennedy, now mostly concerned with finances as the county's comptroller, should want to bring in this cash infusion. The zoning issue exists: the county was exempt from the one-acre residential designation for the property but a private operator will need a change. Putting the facility on the tax rolls and adding 200 to 250 new jobs and vendor contracts might make Brookhaven finally realize a sale is good for it, too.
Foley never should have closed. Reopening it now under private owners would save the county about $700,000 a year in upkeep, and bring in about $500,000 a year in total property taxes. Selling it to private operators, an original Levy idea, was always the most sensible solution. Now, it's the only reasonable option.