Jefferson County’s Coroner is hard at work getting her team updated equipment required to meet today’s challenges for hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors. “Many people don’t realize the critical part the county coroner office has 24/7, 365, in people’s lives,” said Jefferson County Coroner, Annette Cannon. “Unfortunately, death rates (in Jeffco) continue to increase every year, and are now close to the rates during the height of the pandemic,” she added. In 2022, Jefferson County had 5,512 deaths. When Dr. Cannon was first elected in 2018, she found that the department had outdated equipment, a shortage of staffing, and technology that needed critical updating to handle the increased workload. Thanks to funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) she was able to secure $674K, and begin her improvements. That included temporary ARPA grant-funded positions for two coroner investigators, which eases the workload and stress of the team from the increased number and complexity of cases they see every day. Another top priority was getting a modern, maneuverable x-ray machine, crucial to their investigations. The old machine was bulky, dated to the 1990s, and lacked the needs of a current coroner’s office. Along these lines, an updated fingerprint comparator/magnifier was also needed. The current one is vintage 1975, and has no means of connecting to a computer or using software to process information. “This new equipment will help us continue with forensic identification, and save time and resources by connecting the information we need in a more efficient way,” said Dr. Cannon.
Besides getting all five of their response vehicles fitted with emergency lights and sirens to meet State requirements, and an updated pill counter to help in investigations that require counting thousands of medications each year, she further evaluated areas of safety, electronics, and basic necessities not already covered within the budget. “Our staff was using cell phones to take scene photos, and now they will have individual investigation cameras. We are ordering uniform clothing for the staff, such as shirts and pants that will be functional, and provide safety in the field and on scene,” she added. Other items purchased were: a new refrigerator for the autopsy room; shelving/locking cabinets for evidence and property rooms; autopsy cameras; 2-way radios for potential mass casualty field communications; safety glasses and high-functioning flashlights; full-face respirators; hard hats; rubber knee boots; American flags for honoring Veteran decedents; personal and rolling gear bags; and, an audio/video conference system to assist with offsite meetings for staff and families. “ARPA funds were critical to day to day operations, and have helped us replace some old, outdated equipment (including the basics) needed in our office to perform our daily duties,” Dr. Cannon added. “We are veryappreciative of the resources we have received, which will assist us in conducting business practices and procedures in compliance with State statutes. It will also help us adhere to established national and international standards, and help with preparation for any mass fatality, along with the ability to continue to serve the people of Jefferson County in their time of need.” After ARPA was signed into federal law March 2021, Jefferson County was awarded $113 million in total ARPA funding relief. Those resources are being used around the County for various projects and programs, such as the Drew Hill culvert project, the food grant program, upgraded equipment for many County offices and departments, and many others.