Holt: Coroner certification `a good thing’
Voters fixed what many thought was one of the most glaring problems with Colorado’s constitution when they passed Referendum C on Nov. 5.Before the election, county coroners weren’t required to have formal training or certification to determine and investigate causes of death. Courses and workshops are offered by various associations and agencies, said Garfield County Coroner Trey Holt, but they were voluntary.”Now, we will have formal education,” Holt said. “It’s a very good thing.”Referendum C allows the legislature to set coroner qualifications, a process Holt expects to begin next year.Holt, who was deputized as a coroner in 1987 and first elected in 1994, said the mandatory educational requirements might be similar to courses that are now voluntary.Existing courses teach investigative techniques to determine cause of death. In other courses, coroners attend autopsies. In still others, they learn how to handle crimes scenes where death occurs.”The coroner is in charge of the death scene,” Holt said.Holt said it is especially important for coroners to know what they are doing at crime scenes, because they must work with forensic pathologists who perform autopsies.”We are their eyes, ears and nose,” Holt said. “We’re the road map for forensic pathologists. We explain what we saw, so they will know what to look for.”Under state statues, coroners are charged with establishing the cause and manner of death. There are 14 types of death that are reported to a coroner, according to the Colorado Coroners Association. They include:-No physician in attendance.-All cases in which trauma may be associated with the death, such as traffic accidents, gunshots and falls.-Deaths by poisoning, suspected poisoning, chemical or bacterial, industrial hazardous material or radiation.-All industrial accidents.-Known or suspected suicides.-Deaths due to contagious disease.-Operating room deaths and deaths that occur during a medical procedure.-All unexplained deaths (deaths that occur to a healthy individual).-Deaths that occur within 24 hours of admission to a hospital or nursing care facility.-Deaths in the custody of law enforcement.-Deaths of people in the care of a public institution.”The investigation of a death by the coroner’s office is an important function, as it is done by an independent agency who does not work for the law enforcement agency, the physician, the nursing home, the hospital, the prosecution or the defense, but works on behalf of the deceased to obtain the truth about their death,” said a Colorado Coroners Association publication.Coroners have numerous other duties. It is the coroner’s responsibility to remove the body from the scene. The coroner must positively identify the deceased, and notify the next of kin. Death notifications must always be made in person, although not necessarily by the responsible coroner.”The worst part of the job is notifying the next of kin,” said Holt, who is part owner of Farnum-Holt Funeral Home. “That’s horrible.”Coroners are often asked why they accept such a difficult job. For Holt, it’s professionalism.”I know I can do the best job trying to make the worst time of a person’s life a little more bearable,” he said. “At least I can carry it out on a professional level.”
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