The coroner in Morgan County, Ill., notified nursing home investigators last year when he determined that a nursing home resident had died after choking on a piece of ham.
Coroner Jeff Lair, who asks that nursing homes in his county report all deaths to him, said investigators then cited the facility because the resident was supposed to be on a special diet and be supervised while eating but was not.
The coroner in Effingham County, Ill., also contacts state officials about nursing home deaths.
"We have to speak for these people," said Leigh Hammer, Effingham's coroner. "We have to give them a voice. Just because they are elderly doesn't mean that they were meant to die."
Kentucky does not require nursing homes to report most deaths to coroners, who are rarely called even when abuse or neglect are suspected. However, that might change if a bill proposed by Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, passes.
Burch is meeting Wednesday with state officials and nursing home representatives to discuss a law that would require the facilities to notify coroners about all deaths.
The state medical examiner's office is working with Burch to see that "suspicious deaths and elder abuse are investigated to the fullest extent possible," said Jennifer Brislin, a spokeswoman for the office.
The Kentucky bill requires a specific staff member at long-term care facilities and hospices to report all deaths to the county coroner within 24 hours. It also requires coroners to involve police or prosecutors if they suspect abuse or neglect.
The bill is intended to give coroners discretion in choosing which deaths need to be reviewed by other officials, Burch said.
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States Say Coroners Help in Nursing Home Deaths