A tentative deal to stop Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone from shutting down the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility has apparently collapsed when the workers’ union leadership did not allow its membership to vote on the proposal at a union meeting Monday.
The next day after the meeting, Suffolk County Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley) and John Kennedy (R-Nesconset)—two of the Legislature’s most vocal supporters of the union members’ efforts to keep the county in public hands and prevent Bellone from leasing it to private nursing home operators—issued a joint press release urging Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees President Dan Farrell to let the employees vote on their future.
Farrell countered that the two legislators’ refusal to withdraw their names from a lawsuit blocking the sale, which he is also a party to, stopped him from bringing up the tentative deal for a vote.
“I wanted them to stop the lawsuit so we can make this deal and people can be employed,” Farrell told the Press.
In the legislators’ Tuesday news release, Kennedy said he’d never gotten the document he is accused of refusing to sign, and Browning received a copy of the document only hours before Monday’s union meeting.
“I was clear that I will make my decision based on the vote of the membership,” said Browning in her statement. “That has not happened yet. I have also relayed that I would like the county executive to speak with me and Legislator Kennedy directly, and to date he has not requested to meet with me. I believe it is appropriate for that meeting to occur with the county executive and his attorney and with the attorney representing the union, the legislators and the residents.”
“I have been very clear that I would be guided in any decision regarding continuation of the lawsuit by a vote of the membership at the nursing home,” said Kennedy. “I will not restrict any review or speech about any matter going forward.”
Bellone said the nursing home costs the county about $1 million a year in subsidies to keep the facility open. For $23 million, he wants to turn over its operation to Israel and Samuel Sherman, who run a chain of nursing homes in New York. In the county executive’s proposal, the SCAME would drop its lawsuit against the county and the Shermans would keep Foley’s 180 workers at their present wages and provide their health care benefits for 18 months at least.
“Now we’re back to square one, and I’m afraid the county is going to close the facility,” said Farrell. “Unless I hear otherwise.” He says the county has “already started a closure procedure and I’m assuming they’re going to continue on that path.”
Sources told the Press that it’s unclear whether Farrell actually had the votes to prevail on the tentative deal, which he’d made with Bellone. Meanwhile, the county is still hopeful an agreement can be worked out, and that SCAME may reschedule a vote soon.
But as Kennedy and Browning made clear, neither legislator is happy with Bellone’s proposed settlement, and both want changes made.
“The agreement reaches much farther than dropping the existing lawsuit,” they said in their release. “It goes on to prohibit legislators from publicly opposing a lease proposal, even though the lease proposal never went through a public bidding process. A direct lease to the Shermans as proposed would be illegal and unethical, and certainly not in the best interest of Suffolk County taxpayers.”
The Bellone administration claims the county has only two options left for the nursing home.
“One is that we continue with the state-approved closure plan and the facility closes, the workers lose their jobs and all the residents are transferred to other facilities,” says Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider. “The second is that we approve the deal that was worked out between AME, the administration and the Shermans, which means we do a lease that will immediately end our operating loss of a million dollars a month, provide additional revenue to Suffolk County, provide jobs to all the workers and keep all the residents in their beds….There’s no plan C here. There’s this deal and then there’s closure.”
But Browning says the county does have another choice regarding the 264-bed facility, which now has roughly 180 patients left.
“Why wouldn’t you run it to fill the beds?” Browning said. The county has allowed the bed vacancy rate to increase. “How do you justify the need to sell it? You run it into the ground and show that it’s not making money.”