Kane coroner blasts consultant's report that he did too many autopsies
Kane County Coroner Rob Russell blasted a consultant's conclusion Friday that his office did about 50 unnecessary autopsies in 2013.
He told the county board's judicial and public safety committee that the report from former Coroner Mary Lou Kearns "remains a ridiculous waste of time and money."
Kearns was hired by county board Chairman Chris Lauzen, who has criticized Russell for spending more than his office is budgeted.
After the meeting, Russell told reporters: "Clearly the intent (of the review) was not to help me, but to embarrass me ... this entire report was a farce."
In a Nov. 13 email to Russell that was copied to county board members, Lauzen wrote to Russell, "I simply ask that you moderate and balance your self-assurance and spending patterns in this your first administrative, management and political term ... based on the experience and advice of a former coroner who distinguished herself in public service for 23 years in the exact same position in which you currently serve."
Russell also criticized the money spent on Kearns.
Lauzen didn't say much to the committee. He criticized Russell's criticism of Kearns' fee, especially in comparison, he said, to the potential $50,000-a-year savings that could be had, based on what Kearns reported.
He also jabbed again at Russell over fees to copy coroner's reports. When Lauzen proposed hiring Kearns, Russell said it would cost $10,600 to send her copies of the files. Coroner's reports are not subject to the copying-fee rules of the Illinois Freedom of Information Act; instead, state law specifies a $50 fee for a copy. And not all information in a coroner's report is subject to release under FOIA requests.
A compromise was reached, with Russell appointing Kearns as a special deputy coroner so she could sit in the office and read full reports.
Kearns' report is labeled a summary, but in it Kearns writes that it is her "summary and final results." She said:
• Approximately 50 of the 160 cases did not require an autopsy to determine the cause of death.
• Of those, approximately 30 "were very obvious as the death occurred while being resuscitated by paramedics, in the hospital emergency rooms, operating rooms, intensive care units or were patients at local hospitals." The causes of death were or had been diagnosed by medical professionals, she wrote, by testing, scans or "past and present" hospital records.
• The other 20, who died at home or on roads, had obvious injuries or "extensive" medical history, and were taking prescribed medications, she wrote.
Kearns said she did not have access to photographs of death scenes, but Russell said she had access to every death-scene photo, and did not request to see more photographs.
Russell said he had the coroners of DuPage, McHenry, Kankakee and LaSalle counties review the same files, and that their findings differed from Kearns. He also said he is going to ask the Illinois Coroners and Medical Examiners Association to establish an ad hoc committee to review the files.
Kearns was coroner from 1976 to 1999. She lives in Arizona.