Coroner’s office earns international certification
JANESVILLE It’s hard to say what makes Rock County Coroner Jenifer Keach more proud: The fact that the office has earned accreditation from an international agency or that the office already had in place almost all of the policies and procedures needed for the accreditation.
Keach’s office this week became the first in Wisconsin to be accredited by the International Association of Coroners & Medical Examiners.
Keach has been collecting documentation about the office for about a year. It’s a goal she’s been working on since she was elected in 2005.
The job of the coroner is to determine and document the cause and manner of any reportable death in the county.
State statute directs what types of deaths are reportable, Keach said. For the most part, reportable deaths are those that are not of natural or obvious causes. Keach said her office can write policy to investigate certain types of deaths. The list includes car crashes, drug overdoses and apparent suicides, among others.
The office also works to notify families in the event of a death and to provide community education such as suicide prevention or safe driving education.
“The priority of our office is to make sure we’re providing the best level of services to Rock County residents,” Keach said.
The association required Keach to show documentation of 130 mandatory or additional standards that indicate quality in the field of forensic death investigation.
Required information included descriptions of workspace, records retention, case management and qualifications of in-house and contracted staff.
For example, Keach had to collect the resumes of professionals contracted to support investigations. At the top of that list are forensic pathologists, who are trained to search for evidence of crimes or neglect while conducting autopsies. The Rock County Coroner’s Office does not have a forensic pathologist on staff and does not conduct its own autopsies.
The list of contracted professionals also includes forensic anthropologists, entomologists, botanists or odontologists—the folks who specialize in bones, bugs, plants and teeth. Her office might call on any of them, depending on the nature of the investigation, Keach said.
“They want to know what resources do you have,” Keach said. “What are you able to tap when you have a strange case? If you don’t have excellent resources, your ability to perform thorough investigations is limited.”
In addition, Keach had to show proof of her office’s written policies for events such as the investigation of an unidentified person, handling and storage of evidence and required training for staff.
Four coroner’s office staff members are nationally certified medicolegal death investigators, according to a news release from the coroner’s office. The remaining deputies are in the process of becoming eligible for certification.
The office already had in place most of the policies and procedures needed for accreditation. It was just a matter of documenting them, Keach said.
“Ninety five, maybe closer to 98 percent were written,” Keach said. “That’s been something I’ve been working on since I became coroner in 2005.”