February 2021 Program
York County, PA Coroner's Office
By Pam Gay, York County coroner
History and Introduction of the York County Coroner’s Office
The participant(s) will learn about the history of this York County Row Office, the duties/responsibilities of the Coroner and the staff and how the office has changed since the early days. They will also learn about a long overdue project with which we have been collaborating with the County Archives and about the soon-to-be completed County Morgue.
Presenter Pam Gay has been a Registered Nurse for 39 years and has been York County’s elected Coroner since 2014. Her critical care nursing and forensic nursing background have been greatly beneficial to her in her role as Coroner. Pam and her deputy coroners conduct forensic death investigations in York County and interact daily with the families of their decedents impacted by sudden and traumatic death. Pam has been married to her husband, Jeff, for 37 years, and they have two adult, married children and three grandchildren.
This archived presentation may be watched here.
Summary of the February 7, 2021 program, “History and Introduction of the York County Coroner’s Office”
Pam Gay, York County Coroner, was our virtual speaker for our Feb. 7th, 2021 meeting. She started off with a brief history of the coroner’s office. The coroner’s office has existed in York County since 1749. The early office holders were required to be freemen and elected for two-year term. By 1838, the term was for 3 years. In 1909, the four-year term was put into effect. The coroner cannot do an autopsy unless they are assisting a pathologist or forensic pathologist. No formal training is required, beyond a high school diploma but it is necessary to have medical and law enforcement backgrounds. The office is in the process of moving to a new location at the county prison and will have its own morgue rather than sharing space with the York Hospital morgue. Coroner records in York county go back to the 1800’s. Individuals will soon be able to access them at the county archives or go to the coroner’s office.
The office follows a Death Investigation Process. It is necessary to determine the cause and the manner of death – natural, homicide, suicide, accident or undetermined. In some cases, if the doctor can’t or won’t sign for the type of death because the doctor is not a Pennsylvania registered doctor, the coroner must sign. The process includes assessing the scene, photographing the scene, collecting evidence, conducting interviews, filling out documentation, transporting the victim, making toxicology reports, getting medical records, certifying the death, and ordering an autopsy. Sometimes, the coroner must testify in court or make depositions.
In addition, there are other responsibilities assigned to the coroner. They must notify the next of kin, explain their findings, collect data on health trends, handle media relations, serve on task forces such as disaster planning, tracking diseases, and education. Reports are made every year to the county commissioners, public health officials, and the public. COVID 19 deaths must be reported under the category of communicable deaths.
The COVID pandemic has had an impact on the coroner’s office. The caseload has increased. Planning, cremations, case tracking and processing, the need for PPE’s, the overcrowding of the morgue, double shifts for staff, staff members with COVID and quarantines have made it a difficult year for the office. In addition to doing more with less staff, moving to a new office, the construction of the morgue and going virtual have also had their effect on the office.
There is a lot more to the coroner’s office than what we see on television and this was a very insightful look into the coroner’s office.
Summary by Becky Anstine.