State Sen. Dennis Baxley apologized Thursday for comments he made Wednesday in a Senate committee concerning the deaths of 14 residents at a South Florida nursing home following Hurricane Irma.
Sen. Baxley, R-Ocala, said he’s not sure all 14 deaths could be blamed on the heat after the failure of the air conditioning unit at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in Broward County after losing power due to the storm.
“Look at the population. You’re dealing with the 90-somethings. Some of these deaths would naturally occur, storm or no storm,” Baxley told the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee.
He went on to say that “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.”
Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon, speaking on behalf of the entire Senate Democratic Caucus, demanded an apology Thursday morning.
“These men and women were entrusted to a nursing home that abandoned that responsibility and left them to die,” said Sen. 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.”
Baxley later apologized.
“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,” Baxley said. “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.”
Baxley made the comments about the deaths during a committee meeting in which members discussed Gov. Rick Scott’s emergency order requiring nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have backup generators to maintain power to air conditioning units in the event the facility loses power.
Scott’s order gives facilities 60 days to comply, a timeframe that the industry questions is feasible and some are challenging.
Scott has been critical of the The Rehabilitation Center for failing to evacuate residents from the sweltering conditions sooner and has taken legal action by the state against the facility.
Local authorities in Broward County have launched an investigation to the deaths the nursing home residents.
The following is Sen. Baxley’s full apology:
“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.”
-Sen. Dennis Baxle, R-Ocala