Pandemic highlights how important coroners are – Denver, Colorado

Denver, Colorado 2021-12-03 19:46:12 –

Colorado Springs, Colorado — There are movie memorabilia around Dr. Leon Kelly’s office. On one shelf is a “Dexter” action figure. The other is a “Doctor Strange” figure or a “Star Wars” helmet.

On the wall next to his desk is a picture of Ellen Ripley, an “alien.” The souvenir he says reminds us of the fact that there is always an escape route, no matter how dire.

Many of the souvenirs are from horror movies. The signed Freddy Krueger glove could be Kelly’s most proud object in his office. Self-proclaimed movie lovers say it’s good to have an affair around a very serious office.

Kelly is a coroner in El Paso County. Every day he deals with death. His daily job is to try to bring closures to family and criminal cases.

“It’s an incredibly difficult task. It’s emotionally and physically demanding,” he said.

Kelly has been a county coroner since 2018.

Like many professions, the pandemic also hit coroners. Kelly’s team will break the morbid record this year. This is the most autopsy I have ever done.

“This year, we plan to have more than 1,400 autopsies a year, which is about 100 more than before,” Kelly said.

In addition to COVID deaths, car accidents, murders, and fentanyl overdose deaths are also on the rise.

For Kelly, the pandemic reminds us of the need for a qualified coroner. Approximately half of the country has transitioned to a coroner system according to qualifications, but Colorado still elects most coroners.

The state has also not changed the eligibility of those who can run for coroners.

Colorado law allows you to vote at the age of 18, and anyone who has not committed a felony can run for that position.

After that, there are some mandatory trainings, but no medical experience is required.

Coroners also put their parties on the ballot. This helps someone decide who to vote for. Kelly doesn’t particularly like that part of the job.

“I have never had a Republican autopsy. I have never seen a Democratic autopsy. It’s a political position with great power and great responsibility, but it’s not a partisan job,” he said. Told.

In an ideal world, he wants to see more coroners and fewer elected coroners. But this is not the ideal world.

With the physical and emotional rigors of work, along with the burnout syndrome and the increase in work during a pandemic. There is also a shortage Of a forensic pathologist.

According to the Scientific Working Group for Forensic Death Investigation, there are only about 500 forensic pathologists in the United States.

The same group found that only 30-40 people were added to the profession each year across the country.

“There are more NFL players on the Denver Broncos active roster than graduates who can enter this area,” Kelly said.

Another 2020 study Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. According to, less than 1% of medical students choose to pursue a career in pathology.

The shortage of staff is part of the reason why there are still coroners. There are just not enough people to fill all the positions.

Due to the special certification required to perform an autopsy, unqualified coroners must outsource work to another department, which in itself can pose a series of challenges. For one thing, the price of an autopsy can depend on demand.

“In essence this is a free market system and what happens is that the price of those autopsies will go up depending on who can do them,” Kelly said.

Kelly was lucky. His office has six of the largest forensic pathologists in the state. As a result, his team is performing autopsies in about 20 other counties, covering one-third of the state. It’s a lot of work.

“Our resources are growing and our staff is growing. Like all other companies in the country, we are understaffed, but the lack of staff does not kill people.” He said.

It’s clear that Kelly is tired. When Denver7 interviewed him, the doctor emotionally talked about the victims of the year. There is another autopsy performed almost every day.

At some point during the pandemic, his team performed 17 autopsies a day.

“The job of a forensic pathologist is difficult under the best of circumstances. We see the worst of the worst every day, it’s just a tragedy. There is no good ending here,” Kelly said.

Still, he is determined to continue. Kelly wants more doctors to choose this profession to ease the burden on others.

He understands the challenges ahead. A forensic pathologist position requires more training than other medical positions, but pays about half the price.

Still, there are some specific steps you can take to help, such as digging into the amount the government pays for pathologists and schools and encouraging more people to consider their career paths.

He also hopes that the Legislature will change some of the laws around it that can qualify for coroners, at least in order to better set minimum standards in large counties. increase.

Forensic pathology is not the most fascinating task in the world, but Kelly knows how important it is during a pandemic and wants the state to take steps to help.

“You don’t care about Coroner until you do — until it’s something that happens to you, someone in your family, or someone in your community. And suddenly it’s a very important job. Will be, “said Kelly.

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