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New Coroner, EMS Headquarters Ushers In 'A Sea Change'

Four state-of-the-art autopsy stations at the new Coroner's Office headquarters replace a converted embalming room in the old office, a former funeral home.
Courtesy George Hero Architects
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Four state-of-the-art autopsy stations at the new Coroner's Office headquarters replace a converted embalming room in the old office, a former funeral home.

There is a new three-story, $14.8 million headquarters for the New Orleans Coroner's Office and for Emergency Medical Services, built with funds from FEMA, community development block grants, and a public bond issue. It represents an evolution in services to the community, says Coroner Dr. Jeffrey Rouse.

"To call it an upgrade would be an understatement of massive magnitude," Rouse said, comparing the new building to the converted funeral home that has housed the coroner's office since Hurricane Katrina. "It's a sea change."

The new facilities help further two of Rouse's goals as coroner: modernization and transparency. State-of-the-art coolers for storing bodies sit next to an open, bright autopsy room with four work stations.

Rouse has been able to hire new talent in investigations and pathology. Investigations are more open now, he says, with the coroner's office more welcoming to independent doctors observing, with the aim to improve the public's trust in the coroner's diagnoses.

On the administrative front, the new headquarters offers vastly improved working space. When families are called into the coroner's office, "it's probably the worst day of their lives," says Rouse, and those loved ones now have a private waiting room set aside from the general lobby.

As the New Orleans coroner also handles involuntary psychiatric commitments, the new facility also creates a separate space for that role of the office. A suite of rooms is dedicated for evaluation, interviewing and handling of psychiatric clients.

In Rouse's personal office you'll find little at the moment -- except "Percy." He's an anatomical model of the human body given to Rouse by former coroner Frank Minyard, who held the post for 40 years. Rouse's office is mostly bare,  besides the quirky Percy. He wanted his staff to move in before he made himself comfortable.