Monday, July 02, 2007

activist coroner's office

Lazy posting? I wrote this for our upcoming summer newsletter to local EMS providers:

There is a line in our office Mission Statement that has been in place since I took office that we take very seriously: “serve those who can no longer serve themselves”, also that we will “help prevent deaths of similar circumstances”. These are the underpinnings to several recent actions prompted by our office, giving us a bit of an activist role.

A recent case, picked up by some of the media, was our reporting of the prescribing pattern of a local physician and participating in his having his license suspended. We felt that this physician was over-prescribing meds (particularly OxyContin) and that that had contributed to at least 3 individual’s deaths (if not more). Medical “misadventures” (read errors) do occur and we need to ensure a system is in place to address those and learn from them and prevent reoccurrences, but some times the practice is “wrong” and it needs to be stopped before it kills again.

Another case that became prominent was a post-death inquest that resulted in WomenHeart (a Washington DC based women’s heath organization) awarding me the 2007 Wenger Award for Public Policy. Information about that case (an ER waiting room death) is now used nationwide as a teaching tool for women to advocate for themselves and for healthcare providers regarding providing care to all in need. No one should die in a waiting room 20 feet from needed (and available) treatment. I spoke recently at a meeting of the Association of Black Cardiologists in Boston and I will be participating in a national effort to effect system change so that deaths like this do not occur again here or elsewhere.

We work closely with hospital risk management staff; various departments of local, state and federal government; product safety folks; OSHA; and others, all with the goal of preventing future deaths. We also cooperate with families to ensure that any correctable contributors to an individual’s death are addressed and redressed if possible. We work on issues and advocate for solutions and changes to do our utmost to forestall death.

We do feel that we are here to “serve and protect” (a bit overused in other ways), we serve the dead and their loved ones and protect those that have not died yet so they stay out of our office for as long as possible.

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