According to a CBS news report, Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, is defending The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills by claiming the 14 who died there after Hurricane Irma were old anyway.
“Look at the population,” said Baxley, no stranger to controversy. “You‘re dealing with 90-somethings. Some of these deaths would naturally occur, storm or no storm.”
He added: “Eventually everyone who was in that nursing home will die. But we don‘t need to attribute those all to the storm and bad policy.”
Baxley is also a funeral home director.
His comments came as lawmakers are reviewing the actions taken by Gov. Rick Scott after Hurricane Irma. Eight residents died on Sept. 13, three days after the nursing home’s air conditioning was shut off. Six others have died days after they were evacuated.
Senate Democrats immediately called for Baxley to apologize.
Here’s the release:
SENATE DEMOCRATS CALL FOR APOLOGY FROM GOP SENATOR DEFENDING NURSING HOME AT CENTER OF 14 DEATHS
TALLAHASSEE – Outraged by remarks made yesterday by Republican Senator Dennis Baxley suggesting that the deaths of 14 elderly patients at a South Florida nursing home following Hurricane Irma were somehow self-inflicted, Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon, on behalf of the entire Senate Democratic Caucus, demanded an apology.
“These men and women were entrusted to a nursing home that abandoned that responsibility and left them to die,” said Leader Braynon (D-Miami Gardens). “To say that death was imminent regardless of the actual facts that caused these fatalities not only diminishes the role this nursing home played, but the cascade of events that set the stage for such a calamity to happen. Senator Baxley owes the surviving families an immediate apology.”
At a meeting on Wednesday of the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator Baxley stunned many lawmakers as well as members of the public when he deflected blame from the nursing home and inadequate policy to the elderly patients themselves.
“Look at the population,” he reportedly said. “You’re dealing with the 90-somethings. Some of these deaths would naturally occur, storm or no storm. Eventually everyone who was in that nursing home will die. But we don’t need to attribute those all to the storm and bad policy.”
The deaths at the Hollywood Hills Rehabilitation Center are currently under criminal investigation. The nursing home, one of many statewide that lost power during Hurricane Irma’s landfall in Florida, did not have a functioning backup generator to maintain air conditioning in the sweltering heat. The catastrophic conditions led to 14 of the patients eventually succumbing following days of exposure to the intense heat. Eight of them died three days after the power loss; six of them died following their evacuation from the nursing home after authorities were summoned.
“If the fault lies with anyone, it begins with the Scott Administration that allowed bad actors in the nursing home industry to flourish with no effective regulatory oversight. It ends with a nursing home that ignored these helpless souls entrusted to their care,” said Leader Braynon. “Senator Baxley should know better, and he should be ashamed for refusing to place the blame where it actually belongs.”
By Thursday afternoon, Baxley apologized*. His office emailed this statement:
“I apologize if my comments yesterday did not properly convey the deep respect I have for elder members of our communities and the concern I share regarding the preventable tragedy that occurred in Hollywood. As a funeral director and ordained elder of my church, I have spent my entire adult life working with families who are grieving the loss of a loved one. In addition to my faith, working in this field has shown me day in and day out that the life of each and every member of our society is special and worthy of respect. Many of the funeral services we coordinate involve elder members of our community, and I take great pride in the opportunity to ensure their lives are honored and celebrated. No family member should have to fear that their loved one is suffering in a nursing home, particularly during a natural disaster. I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure the Legislature takes the appropriate steps to safeguard our seniors from the horrific and inexcusable situation that occurred in Hollywood.”
* Baxley’s apology was the “sorry if anyone was offended with what I said because I was misconstrued” variety rather than ;“sorry about what I said” type.