Letter to the Editor
Wednesday, June 14, 2017
To the Editor:
Recent news coverage, public pronouncements and the June 2, 2017 Dispatch editorial provide a distorted, incomplete picture of the Franklin County Coroner’s office. We’d like to present a fuller picture, using verifiable facts and highlighting improvements we’ve undertaken – including improvements that address shortcomings and that respond to the public’s changing demands and needs.
Let’s start with the sensitive issue of death certificates. I agree we made a serious mistake in not communicating with Deborah Meadows’ family about the change in the cause of death in which Ms. Meadows died 11 days after being hit by a repeat drunken driver. My office thoroughly reviewed the original autopsy report, police and EMS records, microscopic slides, clinical information and photos. We determined that, sadly, Ms. Meadows died from the metastatic melanoma with which she’d been previously diagnosed. But, we then erred in not talking with Ms. Meadows’ relatives about the change in her death certificate before it arrived in the mail.
As a result, we’ve changed our notification procedures for all families.
That single incident and a few others are being used to justify a legislative proposal to require county coroners to go before a judge to make any change to death certificates. Ohioans already have the right to challenge in court any change in the cause and manner of death on a death certificate.
Relatively minor changes are frequently made – corrections of name misspellings or addresses, for example. More serious changes are rare. In 2016, of my office’s 1,900 autopsies, only three required changes in cause and/or manner of death.
The Ohio State Coroners Association notes that most death certificates are signed expeditiously and amended later, allowing families to quickly obtain burial permits and settle estate and insurance issues. If this bill becomes law, coroners will need to change that process, knowing any changes would require a court’s approval. And that will mean hundreds of Ohio families will have to wait to settle these important issues – at an already sensitive time.
We also are improving our public records reporting, particularly in response to the opioid crisis. Your editorial asserted that I “refused to release public records showing the scope of the local opioid overdose problem.” Actually, we sped up our process to answer your reporter’s request before we’d finished our annual report. And we’re now reporting preliminary overdose data on our website quarterly.
I organized the first two Opiate Crisis Summits to heighten awareness. I also welcome coordination across our region in battling this epidemic. People are dying. That’s what I’m concerned about.
Finally, we have made numerous improvements to the county coroner’s office since I became coroner in 2014, including tightening how we screen potential employees and improving training and education, particularly in the areas of multicultural training.
As long as I am coroner, demanding constant improvement and responding anytime we may fall short will be among our hallmarks. That’s the complete picture of our office today.
Dr. Anahi Ortiz
June 14, 2017