The role of coroners in Pennsylvania encompasses more than what the latest report has to offer opinion

By Scott Lynn, Jeremy Reese and Scott Grim

On behalf of the 64 coroners and approximately 288 assistant coroners throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania who are represented by the Pennsylvania State Coroners Association, we, the undersigned members of the PSCA Board, commit to providing a written response to the issued by the Center for Rural Report to give Pennsylvania and related media coverage by Spotlight PA.

Medical examiners and assistant medical examiners across Pennsylvania respond to sudden deaths occurring in the worst of circumstances every day. Contrary to a likely futile comment by a coroner cited in the center’s report, they do more than collect bodies and direct business to funeral homes. A coroner’s death investigation is much more than just noting a deceased person and filling out a death certificate.

While the Coroner’s Association agrees with certain findings and issues identified in the study, the Association also identifies several concerns about the Center for Rural Pennsylvania study. dr While a respected physician, Christina VandePol was only in her first term as a coroner in an urban county and lacked experience and visibility regarding the operations and workflows of coroners throughout Pennsylvania, particularly those in rural Pennsylvania.

While each Pennsylvania coroner’s office had the opportunity to participate in the study, no other coroners were asked to serve as staff and contributors to the research panel. Although the study contains objective, qualitative and quantitative issues, the research panel lacked adequate expertise and knowledge to provide subjective insight into specific elements of the report.

The association has a working committee dedicated to standardizing procedures, and many coroners routinely compare and share best practices to learn from the successes and areas for improvement of others.

The association is also actively pursuing legislation through SB 1037 to improve educational offerings and processes for coroners and assistant coroners. These include increased continuing education hours; Certification for all coroners and assistant coroners, regardless of county size; and nationally accredited certification for all coroners.

This bill passed the Senate and is pending consideration in the House of Representatives. The association has expanded offers to collaborate on this process with members of the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Human Services, in addition to those listed as collaborators in the proposed legislation, through a new Coroner’s Education Board. Pennsylvania also has one of the highest numbers of coroners and deputies certified by the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators.

A transition from Pennsylvania, which is a coroner-based death investigation state to a coroner-based state, would have a significant and adverse impact on any family of the deceased and the Pennsylvania taxpayers.

Regional forensic autopsy rooms would cost millions of dollars to build. Salaries and benefits for the requisite number of coroners, forensic investigators, toxicologists, and administrative assistants would be recurring and increasing expenses, especially given the nationwide shortage of forensic pathologists.

Waiting times for families and first responders on site and at home would be longer. There is also likely to be an increase in backlogs of final pathology and toxicology reports, delaying the certification of deaths that families need to complete life insurance claims etc.

The coroners and assistant coroners across Pennsylvania are committed to improving our educational programs, training, and skills to provide the best death investigation for every individual and their families throughout Pennsylvania. We will continue to do so with the same rigor, compassion, and respect that we have done for decades, and ask that you show the same respect that we show to those we serve.

The Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania State Coroners Association consists of President Scott Lynn (Montour County), Vice President Jeremy Reese (Columbia County), and Executive Director Scott M. Grim (Lehigh County).