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L.A. County coroner’s office may face shortage of doctors, audit finds

As soon as 2014, there could be long waits for autopsies and the agency’s national accreditation could be threatened as staff members retire and fewer trainees are recruited, the study shows.

May 01, 2010|By Rong-Gong Lin II, Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles County coroner's department risks a shortage of doctors by 2014, according to an audit released this week.

The anticipated shortage as doctors retire and fewer trainees are recruited could cause long waits for autopsies and threaten the coroner's department's national accreditation, according to the 104-page audit completed by Strategica, a firm based near Seattle.

Auditors blamed some of the recruiting problems on "ineffective mentoring and discouraging remarks from senior physicians."

Among other findings:

• Most autopsy files for the 1996 calendar year were lost after a CD-ROM failure, potentially causing problems if cases are reopened. Paper copies are now retained in anticipation of a new computer record system, coroner's officials said.

• Six months of digital photos were found to be corrupted in June 2009 with no backup. Since then, digital photos are backed up every night.

• Employees not authorized to do so can view sensitive records —- an issue that Craig Harvey, chief of operations for the coroner's office, said was being dealt with in the short term by keeping vulnerable information out of the electronic system.

• Prisoners and parolees working on community service assignments as janitors were not properly supervised. Last summer, a parolee was caught bringing a handgun to work, but was arrested without anyone being harmed, Harvey said. He said the coroner's office is no longer allowing prisoners to work, and has reduced the number of parolees to ensure adequate supervision.

• "Skeletons in the Closet," the coroner's gift shop, is losing about $55,000 a year. The shop was intended to subsidize the county's Youthful Drunk Driver Visitation Program, but the audit found that the program is actually subsidizing the gift shop.

"We'll try to take the audit to heart and do what needs to be done," Harvey said, noting that budgetary issues were at the root of some of the issues.

While underscoring needed fixes, auditors also praised the coroner's department for being "timely, responsive and well-prepared" for other law enforcement agencies, providing extensive and thorough death reports and earning international reputations for some of its staff members.

ron.lin@latimes.com

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