What do you see as the duties required of the county coroner?
The county coroner is a public official whose primary duty is to investigate deaths that may have been by other than natural causes. In Washington, counties with populations over 250,000 may vote to hire medical examiners, who are physicians. Smaller counties elect coroners instead, which is much less expensive. The six biggest counties in the state have medical examiners, while the others have coroners. Statutes give the coroner jurisdiction over the bodies of deceased persons who die of anything other than objectively verifiable natural causes. Accidents, crimes of violence, suicides, and deaths from unknown or suspicious circumstances are investigated by the coroner, who interacts with families on what is probably the worst day of their lives. The coroner also has multiple reporting and record-keeping duties.
One of the requirements of your job will be to write a budget which will have to be approved by the county commissioners. How much experience have you had writing budgets?
I have been a registered nurse for 25 years. For 10 of those years I have been in administrative positions where I prepared the budget for my department and submitted it to the administrator or governing board for approval. Personnel costs are usually the largest share of any budget and I supervised staffs of 30-65 (people). As director of nursing at the state psychiatric hospital in Pendleton, I practiced cost containment in an atmosphere of dwindling resources and hiring freezes. In operating and emergency rooms I've secured grants and donations for equipment and technology that our budgeted resources couldn't fund. The coroner's primary responsibility is to the deceased, but he is also responsible to the taxpayers and the commissioners they elect.
Which deaths do you feel a coroner is required to investigate?
The coroner is empowered by state law to investigate a death and to hold, at his (or her) discretion, a coroner's inquest if the coroner suspects an individual's death was unnatural, violent, suspicious, at the hand of the deceased or another, or resulted from unlawful means. Death investigations by the coroner are independent of, and compliment and enhance, an investigation by law enforcement. The coroner's investigation should not replace or interfere with law enforcement investigation. A coroner trained, as I am, in anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, disease processes, and interpreting medical records and medical terminology, including electronic medical records, can separate "facts from fiction" and determine whether an inquest is needed. A coroner experienced in dealing with end of life (issues) can answer questions for grief-stricken families and law enforcement.
What are your thoughts on confiscating medications found in the home of a deceased person? Is this necessary? Why?
At the scene of a death, the coroner has jurisdiction over the body of the deceased and any property that is a direct part of that body, if legal requirements are met. Medications of the deceased may be removed with the deceased. I can look at a medicine and know immediately what it is for and its side effects. Generally it is not appropriate to confiscate medications of other household members. If needed, names of medications and pharmacies used may be documented. A Blackberry permits me to immediately identify medications within prescription bottles. Tactful common sense must guide the coroner's actions. I would never remove a necessary prescription medication from a survivor's home without very good reason and without making alternative arrangements for that family member's medication needs. Cooperation with EMS and law enforcement is vital at all times.
Under what circumstances do you feel an autopsy is justified?
I assisted with my first autopsy in 1984 and I've assisted with many since then. Autopsy rates in the U.S. have been dropping for years. Autopsies are expensive, invasive, and often very upsetting to those who loved the deceased. If you do one, you'd better have a really good reason. I've been drawing blood and preparing specimens for pathology for years, as well as teaching (emergency medical technician) and (intravenous) therapy classes. I know that you'll often get more pertinent information from blood or other specimens properly obtained, labeled, and submitted to the laboratory. Non-invasive scans tell a lot. But, sometimes in a coroner's case an autopsy must be done to obtain evidence that cannot be obtained any other way. Remember that the coroner speaks for the deceased.