Commission hears concerns over ‘mistreatment of deceased’

Published 3:52 pm Thursday, August 15, 2013

Two Atmore residents — a funeral director and former coroner for the county, and his ex-wife — addressed Escambia County commissioners Monday in reference to alleged mistreatment of deceased members of the community.

Joe and Joyce Petty cited a particular incident involving the stepfather of Joyce Petty, following his death at his home.

“I’m here to represent the dead because they can’t speak for themselves,” Joe Petty told commissioners. “I want to discuss the mistreatment of these people from our fine medical examiner Dr. (Daniel) Raulerson. A dead person is entitled to all the respect in the world. He has put undue misery on families. Every funeral home in this county has death certificates hanging.”

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Joyce Petty discussed a time when Raulerson requested that the body of her stepfather be brought to Brewton for an examination, following his death.

“Dr. Raulerson would not release the body,” Joyce Petty said. “He sent Jimmy Payne to pick him up and you have no idea how disrespectful they are to dead people. There was not a sheet on that stretcher, much less a pad or a pillow. How long are we going to allow this to happen?”

Although Joyce Petty appeared more concerned about the treatment of a person being transported in Escambia County, Joe Petty gave more attention to the medical examiner versus coroner issue in the county.

“(Former State Rep.) Skippy White created this mess for his good friend, Dr. Raulerson,” Joe Petty said. “We were the ‘guinea pig county.’ We are the only county that doesn’t have a coroner. A medical examiner does not go to the body. He has the body brought to him. We need a coroner back in this county. I’m too old and my health won’t let me. Please help do something about this.”

Commissioners took no action after the comments, but following Monday’s meeting Commission Chairman David Stokes said Raulerson was a champion for the county and for the health of its citizens.

“The duties that Dr. Raulerson performs for this county are impeccable,” Stokes said. “He is a champion in the medical examiner’s position, keeping it running at a top-notch level. Any allegation needs to be looked into, and we will consider the information we’ve been given.”

Raulerson, who has served as the county’s medical examiner since 1998, said he has no problem sharing the duties of the office or the manner in which he conducts his job.

“I took this position back in 1998, after several complaints about how the coroner’s job was being handled were made,” Raulerson said. “There were complaints from police departments in the county that the coroner was contaminating crime scenes and it was creating a problem. After getting complaints from state officials that they were not getting enough autopsies from the county, a committee was formed to see what could be done.

“I had complained as well, because I was finding out about the deaths of my patients in the obituaries instead of the coroner. I was not contacted for a diagnosis for cause of death in my patients.”

When Raulerson learned of the comments Petty made to commissioners Monday concerning death certificate lag times, Raulerson said the time frame for “final” death certificates was out of his hands.

“Death certificates provide valuable information for this county’s public health needs,” Raulerson said. “I do this job as a volunteer. I don’t take a salary for the medical examiner’s job. It is important that the health information of deaths in this county be accurate. I look at every body and do a physical examination.

“I contact physicians to get medical information and take all of that information to decide if a toxicology report is needed. In recent time, that number of toxicology findings has increased. The state lab does 99 percent of the toxicology that needs to be done in the forensics lab in Mobile. Right now, they are three or four months behind. When a person dies, I provide a ‘pending death certificate’ so that the family, funeral home, insurance companies and what-have-you can take care of what they need to do.

“I do that as quickly as possible. However, I cannot provide a final death certificate until a complete determination on the cause of death is made. Right now, that is taking some time, due to lab restrictions that I can’t control.”

Stokes said the condition and cleanliness of the transport vehicle used to deliver bodies to the medical examiner’s facilities would be addressed and changes will be made as deemed necessary.