Cerabino: ‘Senator Death’ puts happy face on nursing home fatalities


I knew that state Sen. Dennis Baxley was a death enthusiast, but until recently, I underestimated his passion.

Baxley’s a funeral director by trade who dabbles in lawmaking on the side.

The state’s 2005 “stand your ground” gun law is his baby. It’s a big reason for the 31 percent uptick in gun homicides in Florida since it was enacted, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine and led by the University of Oxford and the University of Pennsylvania.

“Our study shows that the enactment of the law is linked with a sudden reversal in the decline in homicide rates, and homicide rates have risen particularly where guns are involved,” the study’s lead author David Humphreys wrote. “We hope these findings will inform the ongoing debates about the implications that Stand Your Ground laws may have for public safety in Florida and other U.S. states.”

This is what happens when morticians write gun laws. A more reflective sort might recuse himself from drafting legislation so inextricably linked to his business interests.

But Baxley’s not the shy type when it comes to serving as a kind of one-man spokesman for death.

Which brings me to a recent meeting of the Florida Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee.

The subject was the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, where dangerously high temperatures occurred for days after the electrical power at that South Florida nursing home was lost during Hurricane Irma last month. Eight residents died at the facility during the extended power outage and six others died after being evacuated.

In the aftermath of those deaths, Gov. Rick Scott called for new emergency requirements for the state’s nursing homes, mandating that they have enough fuel and generator power to “maintain comfortable temperatures” in the facilities for at least 96 hours after an electrical outage.

That sounded reasonable.

But Baxley piped up at the meeting and put a happier spin on the nursing home deaths.

“Look at the population,” Baxley told his colleagues. “You’re dealing with the 90-somethings. Some of these deaths would naturally occur, storm or no storm.”

He probably should have stopped there, but his rigor wasn’t about to mortis just yet. So he put an exclamation point on his argument with this:

“Eventually everyone who was in that nursing home will die,” he said. “But we don’t need to attribute those all to the storm and bad policy.”

Like I said, I had no idea he was this enthusiastic about death.

It’s a good thing he’s not a school crossing guard.

“Yes, Mrs. Johnson, I let little Johnny cross the busy intersection against the light,” he might say, “but eventually every kid will die.”

As you might imagine, Baxley got an earful from the living over his remarks, including those who were related to those gonna-die-anyway nursing home patients.

So he had to perform some emergency verbal resuscitation on himself.

“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,” he said.

It’s not working! Start compressions!

“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,” he said.

Rescue breaths! One … two

“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,” he said.

We’re gonna need the defibrillator!

“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,” he said.

Stand clear! Here come the paddles!

“No family member should have to fear that their loved one is suffering in a nursing home, particularly during a natural disaster.”

Stop. Oh, well. Eventually, everybody in the state Legislature will get term-limited.



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