WWL>Topics>>1-23-14 3:10pm Angela: on the Orleans coroner race

1-23-14 3:10pm Angela: on the Orleans coroner race

Jan 23, 2014|

Angela talks with two of the three candidates for Orleans Parish Coroner: Dr. Vincent Culotta, and Dr. Jeffrey Rouse.

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Automatically Generated Transcript (may not be 100% accurate)

And say this has been quite a day for me because we started with forward New Orleans which is that wonderful collaborative organization of all kinds of people and civic and business who are really just trying to keep politicians. Honest so when they say something -- they keep their promise. And that was very interesting to me and then we have this thing on which we are continuing to look at sort of the mental health crisis that this community faces. Many communities face but definitely this month. And what's happening out with a mental health issues being sort of put into our prisons. And now we're going to talk about. Something that is also very important to this community is who will be the next coroner. And what makes it extra special is that a big part of the coroner's job concerns mental health so we're gonna get and all of that. A learning day. For forty years one man ran the New Orleans coroner's office doctor frank -- yard dropped out of the upcoming election recently. Leaving three candidates vying for the position. Today we're joined by two of them. Doctor Vincent or van collide. On a local physician who has served as president of -- Orleans parish medical society. And is about to wrap up his term as president of the Louisiana State medical society. This is his first run -- political office. Also with this is doctor Jeffrey Rouse an assistant professor of forensic psychiatry at Tulane University. Who has been a contract employee with the coroner's office since 2002. And it deputy coroner overseeing the mental health division. Of that office since 2005. This is also his first run for political office. Doctor -- McKenna was also invited but called and said he was not able to attend. So we -- talking to two guys who just said to me. Neither has ever run for political office but -- doctors in just wanna help people. Bottom line. My first question has to be what everybody has said to me. When I -- -- going to have the corner candidates they all want to know why you want the job. A difficult job. It's a very difficult job but it is a challenging job. It's a job unfortunately that has not been properly attended to over the last years. And I feel that when I looked at the situation it was something that I felt like could do and it's the kind of service that I wanted to give my community -- side. Begin to phase out the active practice of medicine. And and I would echo what -- took a lot of -- -- is an extraordinarily important job. And I've been running the mental health division of that office since Katrina and been working there since 2002 as you said Angela. And so. I know from an insider's perspective. Exactly how that office needs to modernize. And ordered to serve the citizens with better answers quicker answers and with more compassion and so that's why I jumped into the streets as well. Both of you tell me. I think all of us think because we are of that CSI era that this is what you do in reality it it is not -- Correct it is Nazi aside and it will never be CSI in the foreseeable future okay what is it then what is the day. Of a corner. Will do. The job of the corner is really has talked to Columbus Minnesota on the trail is to be an administrator and office that does varying tasks and in the medical service from the public. Of course you have the mental health division that is in charge of the commitments for the city the psychiatric commitments. And of course you have the death investigation side and the office which is responsible for. Having contracts and forensic pathologists. Who do the autopsy is. And to put that that information together with all other available information -- medical records -- third party report to determine how someone died. And then of course you have the the other part of the office which is in charge of the collection of biologically based evidence. In the case of sexual assault. Mister right -- that's right so when one woman is raped that is. -- -- -- -- yes the new -- do that study -- to sexual assault nurse examiners provide that service and the coroner's office. Is responsible for that action activity. Okay. Let's talk about in this partner not the psychiatric let's talk about the it isn't just tragically don't what do we now 119. Homicides. Or murders whenever it's it's also. Anybody can say I would like my father died I'd like to know the causes. And can they then have an autopsy. Won't statutorily. According to Louisiana law and there are certain instances in which the corner hands. The obligation to investigate the deaths such as in the case of -- suspected suicide of course a suspected homicide. Accidents. And that and also expands to other times in which persons may to pass away within 24 hours of coming to a hospital. And then of course the corner has the discretion in other cases to. To conduct the death investigation. So similarly you the classic example is a patient's a person is visiting from out of state. And they drop dead there is no known reason for the death the coroner's office is involved in those kinds of sudden deaths without explanation. Do people have to pay for this. Mirrors to -- know people do not have. To pay for this and he that disease service that is essentially provided for the good of the public by the tax paying citizens of New Orleans. And in fact the the New Orleans parish coroner's office because we have board certified forensic pathologists. That is say they're hot they're hot commodity nationwide in many smaller parishes throughout the state do not have those services. And so those other parishes. Contract with the Orleans coroner's office to provide -- autopsy is however under no circumstances as a family charged for that service. So literally you as coroner would oversee even though you have these. Wonderful pathologists thank heaven and they're doing what we do see on TV they are opening up and looking at. For various reasons and why someone might have died. Not not only are they doing that -- to investigators are investigating the physical evidence surrounding the death in the circumstances. We're relying upon police reports a lot of times around how a person may have died the accident reports and things like that. And then also the Carr's offices responsible for providing the systems and support and so whenever possible the laboratory needs that they have to do to provide this work. If you know I think there's also some opportunities -- the -- has to make sure. That it's all done properly and that it's well combined in the systems providing timely turnaround in LA. Expeditious report that can be used by anybody who needs to use. Okay we're gonna take a quick break we're gonna come back and we're gonna talk about. Really how this office deteriorated. As it did and what needs to be done to -- -- right after this I'm Angela under the -- -- -- doctor van laden and doctor Jeffrey -- our guest today. Both candidates for the office of coroner. You know again we don't need to bash the former coroner he was there a long time but the criticism has been on. That even in spite of Katrina which clearly was devastating to everything everything. It just at the office was not kept up. And one why was that a loud and to what needs to be done to fix it. Well I think the first thing it needs to be done whoever wins this election. Has to go in and do some interviews with all of the employees we used to have about 45 employees part Katrina. That about fifteen or sixteen. The real issue has to be -- and find it -- employers are gonna stay when employers -- -- ago. And then meet with both of them do the exit interviews with the employers that are gonna choose to leave and -- -- why believing what their problems. It's work with the employers who have in this day and asked them how we can make it better. Then they after you do that you do the assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the office the opportunities the office the threats to the office. And put together at that point a business plan and budget. Then you go to the City Council. And the mayor's office and say this is what I need wind needed this is the justification for the expense and hope that you get the money you need to improve the office. And part of that is to have not just that an annual budget but it poignant story improvement over five to seven years because it's going to take. There's no doubt that we can immediately opened the transparency so we don't have the kind of issues. We're hearing about -- death classifications that can be immediately taking care. But the long term work of rebuilding the coroner's office rebuilding the staff. Is going to take time and we're -- get new facilities but new facilities on bringing new systems. You have to computer addresses the medical records system has to be of functioning -- the terms -- data around the time we -- we have to get more investigators so that we get. Independent investigations of crimes and not just the police departments because a lot of times the allegation is the police department didn't do the right investigation. So I think those are the things that have to be done essentially takeover plan for where you can ago. -- One of the wonderful things about running for this office has been actually the opportunity to meet doctor cola. And the I do agree with everything he said it is time for a top to bottom review of the office. Into implements a some business mind on how to bring this office into the 21 century. But I've been in that office for twelve years and from the mental health side of that office and I believe went on the professionally and ethically. But the watching the culture of the office. I've been pressing for changes both in terms of the culture of the office and in terms the death investigation outside of the office works. And so I do believe that there's certain. There's some there's a way to get a jumpstart on those issues. For example if we raise via via the -- that we charge external parishes for all parties again. We charge no families for Rocky Mountains but those other parishes -- -- to -- services. If we raise that up to market rates we can jumpstart some of the things we've been talking about more investigators. An office manager to really keep the books and make sure everything is done and businesslike sense that the taxpayers deserve. The crime scene photographer. Who can be in the back of the autopsy -- taking pictures. While the autopsy is happening and that will of course improve the transparency. And the objective evidence that comes out of the office. But there's been a video photographer Horry still -- Yeah I believe that still photography is actually presently has the highest resolution. And the band is more accepted as a as as evidence in both criminal and civil cases so certainly the first thing I would like to do is getting. Crime scene photographer and that is done in many jurisdictions around the country. And then fourth the something that I -- I've been pressing force for years at the office in that is to have a person who has dedicated to. The family. Because the fact of the matter is you walk into the corners office that it's the worst -- it really yes. And so having someone who's a grief counselor someone who's mentally helped train and whose sole focus is on shepherding that family through. The difficult sometimes confusing process of how the death investigation autopsy process works. Is something that is absolutely necessary and could be jump started immediately if we just made some better you support self generated funds. You know -- a lot of hue and cry about videotaping. The autopsy -- And I don't have any objection to videotaping. A -- -- what I have an objection to knows what's going to happen to those videotapes. You know it's they could be freedom of information request that could get out in the public I don't want to see any bodies of the only. Any relative does have to be have their autopsy view on YouTube I think that's the wrong place to do and I think the dangers can escape. And is not a lot of reasoned that that could photographs -- photographs can do everything in combination with a microscopic examinations at the quote pathologist performed. And the pro in the report of their approach section while the actual -- performing of the autopsy is and is more than sufficient all jurisdictions. So videotape is not necessary it's not required and more importantly has a potential for abuse and disrespect. Let's talk about what you all have brought up which is about the transparency issue. Because there has been criticism on some of the decisions made on on how do you do that too well. In addition to improving the objective evidence that comes out of the autopsy suite such as via the -- the photography. Can sort of preserve what that pathologists season preserve an ad infinitum. One of the things that I would like to implement this corner is. To implement a plan. Not unlike what happens when there's a police related shooting. So for example right now there's a police related shooting not only does the police department respond. Certain force investigative. Teams go out but also the independent police monitor comes to the -- to do a parallel investigation. What is done with regard to sensitive. Cases in the corners office are believed could follow a similar model for example. There is nothing more sensitive to the corner investigates. Van -- death that happens in the custody of the sheriff's office such as someone incarcerated. There's nothing more sensitive than someone who dies as a result of a police action. Or that this is New Orleans and the people know people and so that could be the possibility of a perceived conflict of interest. And so and any of those cases what I would like to implement. Is a team of independent. Experienced physicians who know pathology who no autopsy -- Who would have the ability to. Volunteer themselves beyond call perhaps be paid by an external agency. But doctors that I don't control I don't choose and -- run parallel to my office who could be called in to observe such autopsy is. And you know if they see something they could speak to the forensic pathologists and say what about this or had you considered that. That way the public can know that there is. There are checks and balances there's an independent set of eyes in the room. And I do believe that that is a very concrete and simple thing that can be done to increase the transparency. -- the back in the office that something other jurisdictions of them. Not a lot of you have sent the science is going to be the answer. I think the you know it's been said that. One of our our third candidate who's not here with this -- has been telling us and on the trail. I'm I know trauma and I nobody's gonna pull the wool over -- my comment is. We have the best forensic pathologist you confront. And it would combined with good investigative. Activities. Whether it comes from the police department all the cars independent investigators. Put together a series of facts that allowed decision to be made that's where the decision yesterday. And again I think we need did not say refutes this involved shooting in -- -- it can't be handled differently we have to handle them all the same. Because at -- as soon as you set up a special class it's gonna be suspect. Now I think -- ideas font I'd I'd look at a slightly different I -- any family you won't have an independent observer come in we welcome. It's going to be true cost -- hours ms. Carr's office a stretch for financial fund so it can't afford to do that. I think it's important that the families are given an opportunity to meet with the corner. Nor his representatives. To discuss those findings and saying look this is what we found on. He's of the photographs go along with -- if there's X rays to document was who went on as well all of that's given him to be able city. And I have full desire or fire him elected co owner of the -- say that. Any thing that the law allows me to give those patients families I will give to those families because they need that information. You know I have the cars report from my son's death it's still on them you know and and it's it's there because it was important to a family to be able to say. This was the closure of what we do -- now. I think it's important that those people are able to get that all elements of the of the bodies of the citizens who have been done is that it's shootings or whatever need to have that closure. Stay with us we're gonna continue our conversation with the two candidates for -- right after this. Once again we're talking to two of the three candidates for coroner doctor -- collide and doctor Jeffrey Rouse. Learning more about what that offices before we get onto the next Jerry we do have a caller Craig from California credit. It's a question I watched the budget hearing for the quarter focused on line -- -- -- if they believe the court opposite properly funded. And another question they had to become. The bodies that are being stored from Katrina. If you were elected which you used technologies such as code is sort. Eight. Fingerprinting. And have that information president of the national crime information center missing persons. -- ticket possibly identify those people. With regard to your budget question I was actually -- sitting at that budget hearing but he got called away on an emergency. And on the reason I'm brought to those budget hearings has been too. More forcefully advocate. For the resources in the office but for example. The coroner's office budget is one point seven million dollars. If you look at surrounding parishes namely Jefferson -- their budget is more than double. -- and by any stretch of the imagination vehicle on the psychiatric side or in the death investigation side. Orleans -- handles a lot more cases than them so I'd. I think both myself -- doctor Kuwata and doctor McKenna will certainly agree that increased resources -- and absolute requirement. For. For the corners office moving forward how many of the technologies do you have. We currently have three board certified forensic pathologist will turn full time and their in the process of hiring a fourth. Those are actually on doctors that are highly highly specialized. And highly sought after at any one moment. Those forensic pathologists could make -- called other jurisdictions. And -- a job went to the job quite easily there's there's as many spots open. As for our forensic pathologists. To -- other question concerning would you take some media. Information from the bodies that are still from Katrina -- The bodies that are. There were unclaimed. Or. Unknown after Katrina are actually not currently held at the corners office they have been laying to rest. At the New Orleans Katrina memorial which is at the foot of canal street it's. So it's an actual very beautiful. Beautiful little area I actually haven't had a piece in designing it and writing the inscription there. But those bodies were actually processed by the by the federal government. And their information their DNA information has been entered. Into various databases I do not know if it was entered into code us. Now can double check on the optimistic or not that's not -- requirement because the samples have already been taken. But I can certainly look back into the -- if it was entered into that particular. Criminal -- related. It's great I appreciate that question very much. Let's go on Tuesday psychiatric side of that office. Because as was explained in our previous show because of the napoleonic code it is through the coroner's office that people can have others committed. So that's a big role. Yes ma'am it is I've been doing that since since 2000 -- -- And so how do you handle this. Well the coroner's office before the storm had five part time psychiatrists -- rule. It has been a labor. I'll say that but I have been able to convinced doctor Maynard to every other year -- for several years hire another part. Part time psychiatrists and now we're up to four board certified psychiatrist. But we lack we could certainly use more for sure because we have to be. We have to cover the entire city wherever anybody is committed and that's not just a psychiatric hospital. That could be an icu after a suicide attempt to could be in a regular hospital bed so we have to hustle and scrambled to get there because we have a we have to get there within 72 hours after someone's committed. And so we could certainly use more doctors but also. Before the storm we had a psychiatric administer a person whose job it was not only -- herd so to speak the psychiatrist but also to collect data. To collect data on what hospitals were committing people to look to watch trends as well as. You know one thing I would like to do -- corner -- -- implement but has also done another jurisdictions where -- they can actually. Take information on who was committed in the city. And share that information appropriately and legally with respect to confidentiality. With treatment providers. So that like for example. Judge Johnson over the -- -- metropolitan human services district could then know. Here -- here are hundreds of your clients that have been repeatedly going in and out of the hospital that we had been -- So that way they could target their efforts of the treatments towards these persons these high risk high rescinded this patients. There would not only bring down costs for the city as a whole. But could also. Provide for a better quality of life for this patients as well. -- a lot of well you know a big problem is Jeffrey and his team will go out and meet and deal with these patients within 72 hours. On some occasions they can converted into another two weeks stay in the hospital. But frequently -- -- limited by funds and beds. The coroner's office can create those funds in beds. But what the car can do is coordinate with mental health advocacy groups on the corners around the state. And go to the legislature in Louisiana and make a case for why we need to spend more money on mental health. We can't talk enough about that not stay with us everyone will continue our discussion with the candidates for corner I'm Angela under the -- you well. Our guest today doctor van calavo and doctor Jeffrey Rouse both physicians. Both interested in being the next corner and I think what we've established is for whatever reasons. Our office of the corner has gone to seed. Over many years and it needs to be updated -- -- a lot of sense we have a 1960s office and the year 2014. That needs to change you're going to be in a new building hopefully -- -- fifteen. At least -- -- update you physically but you're right it's much more than a building it is the process itself. Both of you have similar thoughts on some things that you distinguish yourself -- a lot of house. Well you know I firmly believe that there are really no bid public employees some may be better than -- who we don't give in the proper systems they need to do the job. And I believe we need improved systems in the coroner's office whether that be. He voice recognition system for dictation a computer systems so that the nighttime investigative report is available. When the pathologist who works to on the body in the next morning. All of that data should be shared time efficiently and rapidly. That also allows the pathologist and two in the rest of the data quickly and properly staffed and -- late that data put together the final report can be signed an out and eat that much more expeditious fashion it's being done. I think that you know all of the data that needs to be collected can also be supplemented by an expansion of what I like to call self generating revenue. I think it's you know we can look at opportunities for example right now fuel of one is accused of sexual assault. And DNA evidence is going to be necessary the state is seven to swear -- and this. Inflammation is these specimens of the stately to be finalized and examined and reported -- that can take 81012 weeks some times. One of the problems we have is that some people can't afford to get out of jail so they have to languishing in jail waiting for that to occur. It would be nice if we could find a way to generate -- or turn our office in two certified DNA anyway. We could buy some used equipment gets some good technicians if we can get the money. Provide that service for our citizens our police department archer RDA's office. And then once it's operational sell that service to -- surrounding Paris is that can't afford to do it at that and we can make some more self generating fun just like we do autopsy is for the people. We can do other kinds of testing for other parishes. Around the couldn't agree more with the doctor doctor fans it. Plans to increase the -- generate funds through not only increase in the autopsy rates. But also in using the technology that we're gonna get in this new facility. I've not seen those plans I've been part of creating those plans. -- it really is going to be a state of the art facility one that I -- Romanians have been. Needing for quite some time but it's coming. The issue for me as a stepped out on the campaign trail and sort of heard feedback from all areas of the city. With regard to how the coroner's office operates is that it's for me it's not so much about the infrastructure. It is of course about the personnel and the practices and the manner in which data is done in the office but. For me it's also one step higher than that it's that this office has a -- spiritual. Duty to the city to not only. Reflect back information about how the city is doing on an epidemiological. Medical. But also to use that office which is technically the chief medical officer of the city. To use that power to use that bully pulpit so to speak. To be at the forefront. Of advocating. For the public health the mental health. And the violence reduction needs of the city. As a forensic psychiatrist I have treated not only of the victims. Of violent crime and I've been a victim violent crime myself. But also the perpetrators. Of violent crime I've worked in central city have worked in state hospitals. I have treated persons who have been accused of some of the most heinous crimes you can imagine. And so I know quite well personally. How the week how we as a city. You can have a coroner. Who is at the forefront of treating those issues so that we can add that at that voice to the next to make this a better place to. Stay with this we'll be right back. Thank you to doctor van calavo and Jeffrey Rouse candidates for corner don't forget to vote now let's go to the newsroom and Chris Miller.