AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF)- Coroner Mark Bowen and DA Natalie Paine are spear heading a bill to help identify the bodies of those who die in nursing homes before they get to a funeral home. Right now, nursing homes don’t have to notify the coroner if a resident dies.
What this can mean is a lot of heartache for families who are looking for closure when their loved one dies from something other than a natural cause, like a bad fall. The resulting investigation can mean it takes weeks before a death certificate is in the hands of the coroner.
District Attorney, Augusta Judicial Circuit, Natalie Paine, says, “this is an issue that could potentially effect everyone.”
As people grow old, many will enter a nursing home. DA Paine teamed up with Coroner Mark Bowen on a bill for the elderly with hopes everyone can live their life with justice.
“While the vast majority of nursing homes are above board and do things the right way,” says Paine, “it leaves a lot of room for those that are not trying to run their nursing home in an appropriate manner to have a conflict of interest when someone dies that they’re own staff is responsible for pronouncing death.”
And because of this it may not be weeks until the coroner receives the death certificate that will allow him to start an investigation for a death that did not result from a natural cause.
Coroner of Richmond County, Mark Bowen, says, “the funeral home either buries the body or cremates it. Well, once the death certificate is signed by the doctor, if he puts like a fall or whatever type of injury, then we have to back track. So, it takes so much longer. Going in first and getting that information, takes a lot of time out of it.”
Giving families closure quicker, Coroner Bowen says this is the right thing to do for them.
With the elderly at high risk for COVID-19, DA Natalie Paine says this is a perfect example of why its important to have a system of checks and balances.
“If a nursing home is reporting that they have zero cases there, and then the coroner were to, you know, test that body once the person is deceased and find out that there is coronavirus there,” she says, “then I think, you know it would be notifying the hospitals or any of the nursing home facilities that that patient has been in and it could potentially help stop the spread of the virus.”
Bowen and Paine both say this will create more work for them, but they say it’s the families that matter.
We reached out to local nursing homes to get their take on the bill. A Representative at Kentwood gave us a statement saying, if the bill passes, they would “comply with the conditions, which would override the privacy act.”