Re­marks about el­derly deaths bring apol­ogy

Orlando Sentinel - - LOCAL & STATE -

State Sen. Den­nis Bax­ley is­sued an apol­ogy Thurs­day for ques­tion­ing whether the deaths of res­i­dents of a Broward County nurs­ing home were re­lated to Hur­ri­cane Irma or were an in­evitabil­ity given their ad­vanc­ing ages.

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

But Jeff Nova, whose 71-year-old mother, Gail Nova, died Sept. 13, said Thurs­day he isn’t com­forted by the pre­pared apol­ogy from the se­na­tor.

“His first com­ments were the real com­ments. That’s what he thought of, and nat­u­rally that’s what you’re go­ing to take to heart,” he said. “You can say you are sorry, but it doesn’t take back what you ac­tu­ally said be­cause it’s com­mit­ted to mem­ory now and it’s in print.”

Bax­ley made the con­tro­ver­sial com­ments Wed­nes­day dur­ing a meet­ing of the Sen­ate Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Sub­com­mit­tee, which re­ceived an up­date on emer­gency rules that Gov. Rick Scott’s ad­min­is­tra­tion is­sued af­ter eight res­i­dents of The Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Cen­ter at Hol­ly­wood Hills died Sept. 13. Six other res­i­dents died later af­ter be­ing evac­u­ated. Hur­ri­cane Irma knocked out the Broward County nurs­ing home’s air con­di­tion­ing Sept. 10, leav­ing res­i­dents in swel­ter­ing con­di­tions.

Dur­ing the Sen­ate panel’s meet­ing, Bax­ley started crit­i­ciz­ing the me­dia cov­er­age of the tragedy and ques­tioned if all 14 deaths were at­trib­ut­able to Hur­ri­cane Irma.

“Look at the pop­u­la­tion. You’re deal­ing with the 90-some­things. Some of th­ese deaths would nat­u­rally oc­cur, storm or no storm,” he said Wed­nes­day. “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.”

Nova said his mother’s body tem­per­a­ture at the time of her death was nearly 110 de­grees, which means she most likely had seizures and slipped into re­nal fail­ure.

“It was heart­break­ing, and it’s some­thing I don’t know how to come to terms with,” said Nova, 48. “So any­one that stands on the side­line and picks this apart Mon­day af­ter the fact, and doesn’t un­der­stand the depth and de­tail of what th­ese peo­ple went through be­cause there wasn’t a level of care pro­vided for them, it’s just sur­real.”

His mother was a res­i­dent at the nurs­ing home for eight years. Nova, who is vis­ually im­paired and can­not drive, said he spoke with her daily.

When he had con­cerns about her safety dur­ing the storm, Nova said he was told by nurses who cared for his mother that she would be fine and that the fa­cil­ity was pre­pared for the hur­ri­cane.

“You go to sleep that night con­fi­dent. You don’t think of re­ceiv­ing a phone call telling you that some­thing like this could ever oc­cur,” he said.

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