Coroner asks County Council for assistance

By Nicole Daughhetee

Courier Staff

COUNTY — Last year, Pickens County Coroner Kandy Kelley worked approximately 718 deaths; the year before, she single-handedly worked 603 deaths.

So far this year, she has handled 230 deaths.

With a caseload quickly reaching into the thousands and weeks where she logs between 60 and 80 hours’ worth of work, Kelley recently approached Pickens County Council asking them to fund an administrative assistant position for her office to help balance the growing case numbers.

Kelley has asked Council for an administrative assistant in the past; however, there were simply no funds available to support this position.

“The County has always been good to me,” said Kelly. “I am concerned about my office and what would happen should something happen to me. I need someone that I can train. Someone that will be able to help with the massive amounts of paperwork that my office is responsible for.”

At the heart of the matter Kelley said she struggles with unfunded mandates from the state and the plethora of responsibilities that accompany the coroner’s job description.

For example, Kelley says that in every instance of death, she is responsible for collecting, cataloguing and counting the medications of the deceased.This requires a great deal of time and is the type of assignment an assistant would be able to perform, freeing up time for Kelley to attend an autopsy or read through a series of medical records she regularly has to subpoena as part of a death investigation.

Due to the Child Fatality Act, every child under the age of 18 who dies, regardless of the cause or nature, must undergo an autopsy. Kelley is required to conduct investigations that include reenactments, a subpoena of medical records and collaboration with SLED.

Kelley also works closely with the families, which can be emotionally taxing while they are grieving the loss of a child.

“During the course of an investigation, I also try to offer support to the parents and familes who are going through this ordeal,” said Kelley.

She is responsible for making certain death certificates are signed, investigating homicides, suicides, nursing home deaths, and deaths that result from natural causes. Medical doctors can only sign death certificates for natural deaths, yet there are doctors who, fearing liability, refuse to sign any death certificates which, in turn, increases Kelley’s paperwork numbers.

Without a signed death certificate, families cannot bury their loved ones. This is something that has to be done in a timely fashion or it is the families that suffer, said Kelley.

Kelley also participates in public education with first responders like EMS teams and working with students in local anatomy and physiology courses.

There is a deputy coroner who covers for Kelley eight days a month, but even on the few days or weekends she is technically “off,” she is still working.

“I have eight nights of sleep a month that I’m pretty much guaranteed,” Kelley said. “But on the days he’s working, I’m still doing paperwork. I’m still trying to catch up.”

Other county coroner offices have a full team of support staff including several deputy coroners and administrative staff, Kelley said.

As the Pickens County Coroner, Kelley has to sign off on every cremation performed in the county. She said that cremations currently account for roughly 30 percent of funerals in Pickens County. This is yet another responsibility that adds to Kelley’s already hefty work load.

Kelley said that members of County Council were receptive to her plea and understanding of her need for assistance in her capacity as coroner.

Pickens County Council is in the process of preparing itsbudget for the upcoming fiscal year. Kelley hopes to have an answer about funding for a new position by June.