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Why do we vote for county coroner?

November 01, 2017 07:20 PM

When you go to the polls to vote next Tuesday, you might see a position you know little about: coroner.

The majority of counties in New York elect the person who declares someone officially dead. But to be elected coroner, you don't need a background in medicine, pathology, or really anything.

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In November of 1994 in Albany, an elected coroner's worst fear came true.  86-year-old Mildred Clark was declared dead and wasn't, she woke up in a body bag in the morgue. (See full story below) Still today, most counties in New York elect a coroner.  

Rensselaer and Schenectady counties are the only Capital Region counties that have switched to a medical examiner system that uses a doctor.

On Tuesday, Albany, Schoharie, Saratoga, Warren, Montgomery, and Columbia counties will have elections for coroner. However, most elections are unopposed. There are only contested races in Albany County and Columbia County.

Once a coroner arrives at a death, he or she does a physical examination of the body, then starts an investigation into the cause of death. If an autopsy is needed, they call in a doctor. A medical examiner might need 12 years of schooling to get an MD or similar degree. Anyone could win an election to become a coroner.

Susan Hayes-Masa is one of the two coroners for Saratoga County. Before police can even touch the body, she is called in.

Hayes-Masa is a certified surgical technician and worked as an autopsy assistant for 20 years. Although the county coroner is on call 24/7, the position is technically part time. Hayes-Masa is currently working full time as the Director of Donor Services at the Lions Eye Bank. She's accredited by the New York State Association of County Coroners and Medical Examiners.  

Hayes-Masa doesn't do autopsies as a coroner, but calls on a coroner's physician to preform one if the cause of death is not obvious or is suspicious. For Saratoga County, that is Dr. Michael Sikirica. Last year, Hayes-Masa estimates 220 of the 350 deaths in the county were not autopsied.

Hayes-Masa says a large part of her job is dealing with families of the deceased.

"I think the hardest part of the job is dealing with families, grieving families."

Hayes-Masa thinks coroner should be an elected position because she says it's the only way to ensure it is an independent and responsive office

"I think it is important for the residents of Saratoga County who is working for them. And we're elected and I work for them. The only way to do that is to go to these little towns and talk to them and find out what their concern is."

For the first time next year, a new state law requires coroners to take an introductory course in medical examination, Hayes-Massa thinks that's a good idea.


WEB EXTRA: 1994 NewsChannel 13 report on woman declared dead who wasn't

Credits

Asa Stackel

Copyright 2017 - WNYT-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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