Commentary

From the week of July 16, 2009

"The Body Shop," Alan Prendergast, July 2

Body Work

Thank you for the enlightening, well-written, highly informative and ethically frightening cover article in the July 2 issue. I noticed the cover picture and title while walking through the hospital on my way back to the pathology department.

I truly hope that recall proceedings are spurred by the publication of the unethical, unprofessional and medically negligent practices condoned by Mr. James Hibbard. I was stunned to read that he actually questioned the validity of the autopsy in determining a cause of death. It is abhorrent that there is the possibility that shoddy practices may thwart justice for two allegedly abused dead children. Mr. Hibbard, in his determination to hold court over what should be a public kingdom, degrades all professionals associated with the field of pathology and death investigation.

Stephanie Evan

Board-certified pathologist assistant

I worked as a hospice chaplain in Denver from 2000 to 2008. My encounters with Mr. Hibbard (mostly in nursing-home deaths) were often stupefying. Such as the time he wrapped an 87-year-old hospice patient's room in police tape. Another time, Mr. Hibbard spent five hours questioning no fewer than twenty nursing home staffers and asserted the need for an autopsy over the death of a ninety-year-old hospice patient who had a documented terminal illness. I think it is suspicious that Mr. Hibbard investigates many more routine nursing-home deaths than any of the other metro-area county coroners. Interestingly, many of these cases wind up in court, with the same law firm representing the families. Several MDs in the long-term care community have wondered about collusion between Mr. Hibbard's office and that law firm.

Mr. Hibbard is also a very aggressive man. He personally threatened to have me arrested at a nursing home for questioning his autopsy investigation into a routine hospice death of a woman in her nineties that had caused the grieving family great distress. Mr. Hibbard also regularly bullied gerontological physicians and RNs who questioned his methods by threatening to file against their professional licenses. Thus, he was able to assure compliance and silence within the medical community — nobody wanted to publicly question him, out of fear of retaliation. When our hospice confronted Mr. Hibbard about his policies, he got back at us by investigating every hospice death we had in Adams County for three months (which meant our nurses were forced to spend hours waiting for him to release the bodies). Mr. Hibbard does, in fact, have problems with power and control. Once a staff member asked Mr. Hibbard who we could file a complaint with regarding his performance. His retort: "Me. I answer to me. I supervise myself. If you have something to say, you say it to me. I'm elected to this position, and no one oversees my office." Ostensibly he is right, and that is what makes this man so damn intolerable.

Jonathan Daniel

Delta

I wanted to correct some of the Denver Office of the Medical Examiner statistics used in the article about the Adams County Coroner Office. The data, taken from the www.denvergov.org website, reflects outdated practices (2006 and before). In 2007, the OME updated reporting requirements from health facilities in an effort to streamline the reporting process, eliminate reporting of many unnecessary deaths, and better utilize investigative personnel to focus on those deaths requiring a more comprehensive medicolegal death investigation. As a result, the total number of deaths reported has decreased, even though the number of deaths that are autopsied has actually increased slightly. In 2007, for example, 3,006 deaths were reported to the OME. We kept jurisdiction of only 1,093 cases and performed autopsies on 769 of these. In 2008, 2,518 deaths were reported, with jurisdiction retained in 1,093; 746 of these had an autopsy performed.

We are currently in the process of updating the information on our website, including updated annual reports through 2008.

Amy Martin, MD

Chief Medical Examiner

Denver Office of the Medical Examiner

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.

Latest Stories