John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility in Yaphank. (March 25,...

John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility in Yaphank. (March 25, 2008) Credit: Newsday/Bill Davis

Now that Suffolk legislators have passed, with few changes, the budget that County Executive Steve Bellone sent them, it's time for him to worry about the potential budget-buster it contains: the future of the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility.

Like other county executives before him, Bellone believes that the county should get out of the nursing home business. This page has long supported that idea.

Since taking office in January, Bellone has managed to cut a deal to sell the Yaphank facility to a private nursing home operator. The deal would protect the patients and offer jobs to the current workers. They are now represented by the Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees, but under the deal, they'd have to be represented by a private-sector union.

The sale price is $23 million, and the county could save as much as $10 million more in averted operating subsidies. If something halted the sale, that would blow a big hole in the budget.

The "something" is a lawsuit brought by the union, two county legislators, and two Foley residents, alleging that the deal cut too many corners. Among its assertions is that the county failed to live up to a 1997 law that erected a series of hoops the county had to jump through, if it wanted to shed a health care facility. The suit argues, among many other things, that Bellone did not meet those standards.

The attorney for the plaintiffs, Paul Sabatino, knows that law as well as anyone. He basically wrote it. So Bellone has to give careful thought to whether the county can win the suit. He's threatening to close Foley if the suit drags on, but that requires state permission, and it would be a bad result all around: lost jobs, displaced patients, no $23 million for the budget. Meanwhile, as the legal struggle plays out, evacuees displaced by Sandy are filling Foley.

If Bellone concludes he can't win the suit, he should think about doing the process again, carefully meeting all the procedural requirements, in time to reap the sale proceeds in 2013.


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