New Orleans opens new coroner's and EMS facility

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City officials cut the ribbon marking the opening of a nearly $15 million joint office for EMS and the coroner — the first permanent home for both agencies in more than 10 years. - ALEX WOODWARD
  • ALEX WOODWARD
  • City officials cut the ribbon marking the opening of a nearly $15 million joint office for EMS and the coroner — the first permanent home for both agencies in more than 10 years.

City officials cut the blue ribbon on a joint coroner's office and Emergency Medical Service facility on Earhart Boulevard and Claiborne Avenue, bringing both offices into a permanent home after years of trailers and other temporary digs.

"I know y'all like it better than that trailer," said Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

After Hurricane Katrina and the federal floods, the Orleans Parish Coroner's office moved from its damaged headquarters to refrigerated trucks. EMS left its flooded headquarters on Moss Street to a string of makeshift spaces, from parking lots to trailers. Coroner Jeffrey Rouse, who was elected in 2014, said the office was operating in "difficult and quasi-adequate conditions."

Landrieu said the offices made due with "literally working in trailers" to ensure "the city recovered first." Rouse said the new joint facility and its design — a years-in-the-making $14.8 million project — "reflects the professionalism" of the staffs and will be "the envy of coroners around the country."

With its annual budget of little over $2 million from the city's general fund, combined with $400,000 in self-generated funds, the coroner's office performs 1,200 autopsies a year — two times as many autopsies than that of Jefferson Parish, which operates on an annual budget of $5.4 million (more than double that of New Orleans).

The office also performs roughly 2,000 psychological evaluations each year and 150 "pauper's burials," serving as a "funeral home of last resort."

"We're the busiest coroner's office in the state," Rouse said, calling it the "final destination for the ills of humanity"

Rouse now oversees a 23,000 square foot facility with refrigerated storage for up to 112 bodies, five autopsy stations and a laboratory suite with labs for tissue and cell study and other tests. There also is a mental health suite where patients and families can receive "private, compassionate" care, Rouse said. The office isn't fully funded to staff and equip its new toxicology lab, however.

EMS director Jeffrey Elder said EMS staff includes 160 people, including round-the-clock responders, 50 part time employees and its 911 communication staff.

EMS' new 14,000 square foot facility includes its command center, teaching and instruction space and other amenities. EMS began moving its offices last month, but today marked its first official day in its new digs.

"EMS finally has a home," Elder said. "A place that truly is worthy for what they do every day."


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