GOP Lawmaker Says South Florida Nursing Home Victims Would Have Died Soon Anyway

Central Florida Sen. Dennis Baxley
Central Florida Sen. Dennis Baxley Florida House of Representatives
Florida state Sen. Dennis Baxley — who recently blocked a monument to slavery victims and attended a pro-Confederate gala mere weeks after the Charlottesville Nazi rally — has done it again. As of this morning, 14 elderly people have died from heat exposure in a negligently run Hollywood, Florida nursing home after Hurricane Irma shorted out the air conditioner there, a tragedy that the State of Florida could easily have prevented.

Baxley could use his power as a lawmaker to force state nursing homes to, say, buy backup generators or submit to extra inspections. Ah, screw that. Why do his job, legislate, and try to fix societal problems if those geezers would have just keeled over next week anyway?

"Look at the population," Baxley said yesterday, according to a news release the Florida Senate Democrats circulated today. "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."

Baxley's remarkably cruel comments would merit a tongue-lashing at a Sunday family dinner. But they're exponentially worse in context: He was speaking yesterday at a meeting of the State Senate's Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee.

Naturally, South Florida lawmakers are pretty upset with him. Miami Gardens state Sen. Oscar Braynon released a statement this afternoon chastising the Ocala lawmaker. State Democrats are now demanding that Baxley apologize.

"These men and women were entrusted to a nursing home that abandoned responsibility and left them to die," Braynon said today in a prepared statement. "To say that death was imminent regardless of the actual facts that caused these fatalities not only diminishes the role the 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."

In the early-morning hours of September 13, Broward County first responders rushed to the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills as residents overheated en masse and, literally, passed out and died on the premises. Eight people died in the immediate 24 hours after the home was evacuated — and six others have died in the weeks since then.

But the state could have taken obvious steps to prevent the tragedy. The home was run by a former fraudster, cited repeatedly for safety violations, and described by residents as basically being a prison camp for grandparents. Elderly residents were filmed lying nude in the hallways, according to the Miami Herald. Florida Gov. Rick Scott has since issued new emergency rules to prevent this tragedy from happening again, but he has also deservedly taken some flak for interfering with attempts to better regulate state nursing homes in the past.
Yelling at Baxley is now something of a ritual in Florida politics. Democratic lawmakers previously sparred with the North Floridian after Baxley last year said a bunch of offensive nonsense during a debate over building a monument to slavery victims on state land. Baxley said he didn't want to build a monument to "celebrate defeat."

Miami state Rep. Kionne McGhee, who is black, then said he was "furious" with the state senator, to which Baxley later unconvincingly responded, "I love black people. I love white people. It’s not a racial thing with me," which is the sort of thing you're forced to say only when you definitely have a race problem.

Plus, Baxley also infamously authored Florida's 2005 Stand Your Ground law, which has been tied to a dramatic rise in statewide murders and was used to justify George Zimmerman's 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin, the incident that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement.

Baxley is reportedly the descendant of a Confederate soldier, a proud defender of rebel army monuments, and unapologetic in his support for the "history" of the army that fought to keep black people enslaved. (We have some bad news for him about monuments that celebrate losing.)

Baxley is so wedded to the Confederacy that he attended a September banquet with a group called Save Southern Heritage Florida, a pro-Confederate organization that sent at least one representative to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this year. When New Times asked him why he refused to cancel, he claimed he was going to speak at the banquet in order to "denounce hate."

Granted, Baxley's day job as a funeral home director could have desensitized him a bit to dead elderly people. But the rest of the state has yet to be desensitized to Dennis Baxley's moronic behavior.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.