Sacramento County Coroner's Office
On January 19, 1999, the 1998-1999 Sacramento County Grand Jury toured the Sacramento County Coroner's Office, located at 4800 Broadway, Sacramento. It is a modern, well-equipped facility.
The Grand Jury was informed that the staff is comprised of peace officer deputy coroners, forensic pathologists and morgue support staff as well as administrative and clerical personnel. The Coroner's Office investigates all suicides, murders, auto accidents and deaths under suspicious circumstances to determine the manner and causes of death. According to information given to the Grand Jury, there are approximately 9,400 deaths a year in the County, or approximately 26 per day; of these, 15 are handled by the Coroner's Office. Of special interest is the dedicated "homicide room" that ensures that there is no cross-contamination when a homicide autopsy is performed.
The staff of the Coroner's Office is a combination of 20 county employees supplemented by contract staff, ensuring that all mandated services are provided in a cost-effective manner. The facility operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Three deputy coroners collect evidence and assist in the final determination of the cause of death. The coroner and the deputy coroners are sworn peace officers.
According to information received by the Grand Jury, the Coroner's Office supports the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act as specified in the Health and Safety Code. The Office works closely with Golden State Donor Services and Sierra Eye and Tissue Donor Services for the harvesting of organs and tissues.
The Grand Jury was advised that the Coroner's Office has developed several community liaisons; it also performs autopsies for El Dorado County. The University of California, Davis Medical Center also contracts for morgue and office space for its staff. The Office plans to continue to market similar types of services to neighboring counties which currently depend on funeral homes and emergency room doctors to perform autopsies.
(According to information provided to the Grand Jury, nine counties in California have separate coroner or medical examiner's offices, whereas other counties combine this function with their sheriff's departments.)
The Grand Jury was told about several community-oriented programs that reflect the Office's commitment to education and prevention:
· "Every 15 Minutes": A community involvement program, including a high school program, sponsored by multiple agencies, that dramatizes the realities of drinking and driving
· Youthful Drunk Driver Visitation Program (DUI Program): Court-required visitation to the county morgue for minors convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs (Vehicle Code Section 213145)
· Child Death Review Team: A multidisciplinary committee that reviews all child deaths in Sacramento County
· Domestic Violence Death Review Team: A countywide committee that reviews domestic violence deaths not currently in litigation
· Presentations to Community Groups and Schools: Formal presentations made on request to both community groups and schools describing the functions and responsibilities of the Coroner's Office
Finding and Recommendation
Finding #1: At the time of its visit, the Grand Jury was told that all Coroner's Office vendors had enjoyed informal contracts, that, in some cases, had lasted for up to 20 years. The Grand Jury learned that the vendor for decedent transport and its predecessor companies had provided that service to the County for 20 years without a formal contract in place.
The Grand Jury was subsequently informed, on April 23, 1999, that the Coroner's Office was in the process of rectifying that deficiency, and would offer a Request for Proposal (RFP) in an effort to attract competitive vendors. On that same day, the Grand Jury was also informed that the Coroner's Office would adhere to Sacramento County policies relating to purchasing and contracting with vendors for specific services. Those policies are outlined in a document titled "Basic Public Purchasing for Department Designated Buyers," which are policies of the Sacramento County Public Works Agency. The Grand Jury was informed that those policies and procedures would form the basis for preparing RFPs to establish a new contract for decedent transport, as well as other new contracts for morgue and pathology support services and for neuropathology consult services.
Coroner's Office administrators informed the Grand Jury that all the resultant new contracts would be issued for a five-year period.
Recommendation #1: The Grand Jury requests copies of any and all contracts and RFPs currently in place, as well as those that may be pending.
A Response is Required
The California Penal Code requires the Sacramento County Coroner's Office to respond in writing to the Grand Jury's recommendations contained in this report, and to submit its response to the presiding judge of the Sacramento Superior Court by September 30, 1999.