LYONS — In the wake of what Wayne County officials have called mismanagement of its Coroner’s Office in 2017, officials are moving ahead with organizational changes that call for two elected positions and the removal of a requirement that they be physicians.
County Administrator Rick House said his recommendation, made in conjunction with an ad hoc committee that includes supervisors and other county officials, is expected to go before two supervisor committees this month for review.
After that, said House, supervisors must approve the proposed changes in a proposed local law that outlines the coroner’s office structure. A public hearing would follow, with adoption by supervisors after that, he added.
If approved by supervisors, voters in Wayne County would elect two coroners this November, said House, dropping the single-coroner model that has been in place for decades.
The changes come amid problems in 2017 that included a large backlog of death certificates and what supervisors described as a “lack of a coordinated response between the Coroner’s Office, pathologists, funeral directors, town clerks and county administration staff.”
Former coroner Karen Nickell, who stepped down in October, suffered serious health issues that she said played a role in her ability to perform her duties, which resulted in delayed death certificates.
Since then, the county has been working on short-term measures to shore up the office, while looking at what House called much-needed revisions to the department’s makeup.
In December, supervisors hired former Wayne County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Keith Benjamin, who has considerable experience in the funeral industry, to provide administrative support for Acting Coroner Dr. David Koretz, a retired physician from Ontario who was a deputy coroner under Nickell.
The move to what are called lay coroners (non-physicians) is one of necessity, said House.
“The problem is nobody wants to step up to the plate,” he said, explaining that most physicians who live in the county don’t have the time to commit to the job.
Under the new arrangement, said House, the office will also have two coroner physicians who will work in tandem with the coroners for anything from fatal crashes to unattended deaths.
Coroners would go to the scenes and make their determinations, with the coroner physicians signing off on the death certificates.
The office’s functions may be out of the spotlight, said House, but they are essential. A delayed death certificate can prevent a funeral home from coordinating funeral arrangements with grieving families.
The revamped Coroner’s Office will continue to include a part-time administrative assistant, and House, who also noted that the office now has, for the first time, a physical office in the Public Safety Building on Route 31. Before that, coroners used their doctor offices to perform the functions.
House does not expect the proposed changes to increase the Coroner’s Office budget. The 2018 budget calls for spending $137,003 for office functions, a $16,457 reduction over the revised 2017 budget of $153,460.
House expects “huge efficiencies” by reducing the use of the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office for autopsies, which he said are more expensive than regional hospitals.