On Monday, July 30, 2018, USC WIM hosted Dr. Jonathan Lucas, LAC Medical Examiner-Coroner, and his assistant, Isidora Centro, at a WIM Luncheon at HSC. It was a fascinating discussion on where and how the DMEC (department of the medical examiner-coroner) fits into the vast and mysterious (to me) LA County system.
As Cynthia Henderson points out:
“Dr. Jonathan Lucas spoke to the living about the dead!
“The most surprising thing for me about Dr. Lucas was how absolutely down to earth (no pun intended), engaging, knowledgeable, and funny he was. And he brought his assistant. (We always invite the assistant, but Dr. Lucas is the first guest to bring the assistant to the luncheon. GM)
“I never thought about how bodies get identified but looking at a picture or asking a relative to do a quick look for identification are not the top ways of doing so. Fingerprints, Dental records, Body X-rays, even DNA are preferred.
“Around 10,000 autopsies a year are performed by a staff of approximately 250. They are especially sensitive to the needs of the family, religious practices, and the dignity and respect of those who no longer can speak for themselves.
“The DMEC’s work can provide a concrete look at what we die from the most, when, where and possibly ways to prevent accidents from happening not yet thought of.”
And Kathleen Warner was glad she was at the luncheon:
“USC’s Women in Management organized a luncheon meeting with Dr. Jonathan Lucas, L.A. County’s Medical Examiner-Coroner, on July 30, 2018 at Norris Medical Library on the Health Science Campus. Dr. Lucas is a board certified forensic pathologist and was appointed to his position by the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors in June 2017.
“Dr. Lucas shared with the group the myriad tasks performed by the Medical Examiner’s office from determining cause and manner of death to analyzing DNA samples to help identify who has died. Dr. Lucas stressed the importance of serving the residents of the County of Los Angeles, especially a decedent’s loved ones, in the processing of the cases the office handles. The Los Angeles County Medical Examiner’s office is the busiest medical examiner’s office in the country.
“Dr. Lucas assumed management of the County’s Medical Examiner office at a time of concern over case backlog and inadequate staffing. Dr. Lucas described the strides the office has made in addressing these issues and the plans he has for further strengthening office procedures. As busy as the DMEC’s office is, WIM is most appreciative of Dr. Lucas generously sharing his time to speak at its luncheon.”
This was a very relaxed and relaxing luncheon. The conversation, and it really was a conversation, was so congenial and flowing, I even dispensed with the written question demand I usually make. Dr. Lucas even did his own introduction, mentioning that he’s a native Californian, worked for the New York City Medical Examiner until October 1, 2001 (yes, he worked on 911 in the NYC morgue). He moved back to California to be the Assistant ME for San Diego County. Then, as he told us, 1 year and 20 days prior to our luncheon, Dr. Lucas took over as the LA County Chief Medical Examiner. The hour and a half flew by as Dr. Lucas talked about how the addition to our morgue of an in-house DNA lab returns results in 2 weeks, as opposed to the 3 months when they used to send it to another lab. He listed the ways Jane/John Doe bodies are identified, and that a recently purchased CAT scanner has been a valuable tool for this task. He graciously answered questions about how bodies of various religious faiths receive the most sensitive and respectful treatment possible in each case. There was also some discussion on the ages of children who pass through the morgue, and how his department works with Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and the LAPD in certain cases. And it was all thoughtful and practical information on things I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about. (Okay, full disclosure, since I’ve reached the age where I will not live as long as I have already lived, DEATH does cross my mind a little more often, but rarely do I think about the dead.) Yes, rarely do I think about the dead, but I am greatly relieved that if I die in LA County, the DMEC will be there for my remains. And I feel proud that Dr. Lucas is leading that department because he said: “We care for the dead in service of the living.” He went on to explain that his department provides answers on why and how that person died to their family, friends, and community — all the people who will grieve for and remember the deceased. And this is why I hope Dr. Lucas will be LAC Chief Medical Examiner for many years to come, and I’m very glad he made time to talk with us on Monday, July 30, 2018.
Also, I was delighted to meet his assistant, Isidora Centro. She told me she’s been with the County for 30 years, but she’s not going to retire until Dr. Lucas retires, so he must be a great boss.
Many thanks to Cynthia Henderson and Kathleen Warner for sharing their thoughts on the luncheon with me and refreshing my memory. Thank you to Janet Schmidt for the photos.
Also, if you were at the luncheon, and want to share your thoughts, I’ll be happy to post them here if you email them to me. I thought we had comments on WIM blog posts, but it seems not to be. You all know where to find me. GM