Sen. Durell Peaden, a beloved and bemusing former lawmaker from the Panhandle known for his passion and savvy on health care issues, passed away this morning. He was 69.
Peaden, known to intimates as “Doc,” had undergone double bypass surgery earlier this month and was in stable condition, resting in Pennsylvania afterward. He is survived by his wife, Nancy, and three children.
Peaden’s death was announced by his cousin and Senate successor Sen. Greg Evers who, like the late Peaden, represents Crestview.
“A very compassionate man who could always be counted on for a good laugh, especially in tense situations,” recalled Michael Garner, a former Senate aide to Peaden.
“We lost a statesman,” said Jan Gorrie, a lobbyist for safety-net hospitals whose work took her across Peaden’s path many times.
Evers reflected to the the Miami Herald: “Doc had a love for his family and his community that was beyond anything. He was a friend. He was a cousin but most of all he was a mentor,” Evers told the Herald/Times.
Peaden was the chairman of Florida Health Choices and since retiring from the Senate had kept an interest in graduate medical education. Florida Health Choices would have played a role in the expansion of Medicaid under the Senate’s proposed “FHIX” health plan.
Though he likened himself to an “old country doctor,” the image belied his political abilities where he quickly became a force in the area of health care policy. He was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives as a Democrat in 1994. He switched parties to Republican in 1997 and was elected to the Senate in 2000. He was term-limited out in 2010.
Peaden was the longtime architect of health care spending in the Senate and was influential in developing substantive health care policy. Peaden championed a medical school for Florida State University and was the driving force behind the college’s design, tapping into regional campuses across the state to teach students about geriatric care, primary care, and the challenges of providing health care in medically under-served areas.
Though he was a physician and saw patients until 2000 when he closed his practice, Peaden often was at odds with organized medicine during the medical malpractice Sessions and Special Session in Tallahassee in the early 2000s.
“Mistakes are made. You can’t totally disregard what happens,” Peaden told the online news publication Health News Florida in 2010. “You’ve got to be fair to everybody on that issue.”
Sen. Don Gaetz announced the news of Peaden’s recent heart attack on the Senate floor earlier this month, during the just-adjourned special session.