Honoring "Death Care" Workers

April 30, 2020 — As the coronavirus pandemic continues to unfold, the media and public has turned their attention to workers — including first responders, paramedics, nurses, and doctors — who are on the front lines of the crisis. But a retired deputy medical examiner, Vidal "El Muerto" Herrera, recognized there was one profession that seemed largely overlooked: medical examiners and coroners.

"The heroism of doctors and nurses have been widely and rightly discussed, but we are there, too," said Herrera. "When will they applaud us? Deputy medical investigators, along with their team of morgue transport attendants, responding to multiple death scenes, conducting death investigations, and removing bodies from public view. They rely completely on us."

Herrera, who is also the founder of 1-800-AUTOPSY in East Los Angeles, California, decided to do something for the death-care workers in his area. In April, he had Italian subs delivered to workers at the Los Angeles County coroner's office. Buying lunch for the forensic technicians and forensic attendants at the coroner's office was just a small gesture to let them know they are appreciated.

"I want them to know that their country desperately needs them in these extraordinary times, more than ever," said Herrera. "Forensic pathologists, autopsy technicians, photographers, criminalists, and support personnel... A workforce that do their job diligently, day in and day out, 24/7, with hardly a glimmer of recognition. They don't ask for it. As Nike would say, they 'Just Do It' and don't bat an eye.

"There are certain duties to go with their positions in life. This is what we signed up for — to take care of the dead," added Herrera. "We know how to do it and we’re doing the best we can. As this crises continues to unfold they will continue doing their part to support those on the frontlines and of our fellow Angelenos. Providing their type of unique skills and services to help any way then can. It’s their moral sense of why the do what they do."

On April 24, Dr. Christopher Rogers, chief of Forensic Medicine at the County of Los Angeles Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner, sent a letter to Herrera thanking him for the lunch donation. "I hope that soon the present crisis will pass and we will see you without protective apparel," wrote Rogers.

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