Thursday, January 12, 2012

Coroner's Office Employee Blows Whistle On Morgue Conditions

Here's a story that shouldn't come as any surprise. The Marion County Coroner's Office, the nation's worst, maintains a morgue one would expect to find in a third world country. An employee of the office became so disgusted that he recorded a video of the conditions inside the morgue and sent it to WRTV's Jack Rinehart. It shows open body bags with rotting bodies leaking hazardous blood and bodily fluids onto the floor. Some of the bodies have been in the morgue for more than a year.
An employee at the facility sent RTV6 a 60-second video showing the inside of the refrigerated storage vault at the morgue.
In an accompanying letter, the anonymous employee said that some bodies have been at the morgue for more than a year, and that blood and bodily fluids have leaked onto the floor, making for unsafe and unsanitary working conditions.
"It smells really bad, and we have to work with the look of rotting bodies and the smell of rotting flesh every day," the employee wrote. "It is very disrespectful to the deceased."
RTV6's Jack Rinehart showed the video to John Linehan, who worked at the morgue for 20 years, including a number of years as chief deputy coroner.
"It's no wonder people would complain about the smell or the sight," he said. "Some of the bags are open. There are body parts that are exposed through the bags. It would be horrible to work under those conditions."
RTV6 showed Chief Deputy Coroner Alfarena Ballew the video, which the employee said was taken in December.
Ballew stressed that the nature of the job can be difficult at times, but maintained that the vault is cleaned every day and that the morgue is kept to standards of the National Association of Medical Examiners.
"We don't know when that blood and body fluid was leaking onto the floor. That's one issue," Ballew said. "(Regarding the complaint) it smells very bad, well we do have decomposed bodies that we deal with every day."
Ballew acknowledged that at least two bodies have been stored at the morgue for longer than a year. One is an unidentified John Doe and the other has not been claimed by next of kin.
But Ballew said her staff has limited options with what can be done with the deceased in those cases.
"That would be heartless to say, 'If you don't get this body out of here, we're going to cremate this body,'" she said. "No, we can't do that."
Yeah, that might seem heartless but that's exactly what Ballew did in 2006 when she allowed a deceased person's body to be cremated before she even bothered to notify the man's family that he had died.
In 2006, an Indianapolis man who had been reported missing was identified at the morgue but cremated before the family was notified that he had died. The coroner's office said at the time that attempts to contact the family were unsuccessful.
Rinehart's report notes that then-Coroner Kenneth Ackles fired Linehan. Ackles replaced Linehan as the office's chief deputy coroner with Ballew, a deputy coroner with little experience who had been the subject of a number of past disciplinary actions for insubordination and dereliction of duty. Linehan sued the office for race discrimination, won his case and was awarded $280,000. The office also paid $630,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by two former forensic pathologists contracted by the office, Drs. Stephen Radentz and Michele Catellier, who contended they were also fired because they were white so Ackles and Ballew could hire Dr. Joye Carter, a highly controversial forensic pathologist who had left similar jobs in Washington, D.C. and Houston under a cloud of controversy over her management style and questions about her professional competence. Two other white employees were also paid $100,000 to settle lawsuits they brought against the office for race discrimination. The scene depicted in this video is not unlike what was reported about conditions at the morgue during Dr. Carter's tenure as a medical examiner in Washington, D.C. As the Star reported when she was first hired by Marion County:
She left her job in Washington in 1996 soon after The Washington Post reported that conditions in the morgue rivaled Third World conditions, with drains clogged with blood, stacked bodies and inconsistent refrigeration that led to rotting corpses.
It is absolutely incredible that the current coroner, Dr. Frank Lloyd, kept Ballew on as the chief deputy coroner after he succeeded Ackles. Lloyd leaves it to her to run the day-to-day affairs of the office, while he devotes his time to his full-time surgery practice. If he had bothered to read the court decisions in the Linehan and the forensic pathologist cases, he could not have possibly made a rational decision to keep her in that post. In addition to the nearly $1 million in settlement payments the office had to pay out to settle the race discrimination lawsuits, the office paid nearly $800,000 to the Barnes & Thornburg law firm in attorney's fees to defend the cases. Ironically, Ballew claimed that firing the white forensic pathologists and replacing them with Carter would save the office money. In fact, the cost of forensic pathology services skyrocketed more than a $1 million annually after the office hired Carter. The only thing it accomplished was allowing Ackles and Ballew to get rid of some of the office's best employees and replacing them with lesser qualified black employees.

Equally as disgusting as the office's racially discriminatory employment policies is how former City-County Council President Ryan Vaughn, a Barnes & Thornburg attorney, patted Ballew on the back for a job well done every time she appeared before the council because of all the legal work she created for his firm. Councilor Marilyn Pfisterer, too, pats Ballew on the back every time she comes before the council to present the office's budget, but that is simply attributable to her inability to think beyond a third-grade level. Having studied the coroner's budget thoroughly, I've concluded that most councilors are simply incapable of performing any budget oversight role. Go back and review the archived budget hearings for the coroner's office if you doubt me.

Editor's Note: In the interest of disclosure, I represented the former forensic pathologists and two former employees of the office in their race discrimination cases against the Marion Co. Coroner's Office. What I learned about the incompetence and racial animus that exists in that office is beyond belief. The prosecutor's office and any attorney representing a client in a homicide case in this county should be checking and double checking any finding that is reported by that office if he or she is doing their job.


Anonymous said...

Since Senator Lugar does not have a residence in Indiana, taxpayers pay for his expensive hotel rooms and meals. Even though the Senate is in session only about 130 days a year, Senator Lugar spends only about 30 days in Indianapolis and visits only one or two other cities per year. He does not visit small towns. He does not hold town hall meetings with "the folks." When did he last visit your community? Lugar is too good to sit next to us or visit with us.

Concerned Taxpayer said...

"...nearly $1 million in settlement payments the office had to pay out to settle the race discrimination lawsuits, the office paid nearly $800,000 to the Barnes & Thornburg law firm in attorney's fees to defend the cases..."
I believe that would be the TAXPAYERS that have paid this money.