July 1, 1995 in Nation/World

Coroner Gets Cold Shoulder From Hospital Holy Family Won’t Give Amend Key To Morgue, Office Space

By The Spokesman-Review

The morgue might seem like the last place people would fight to get into. But most people aren’t Dexter Amend.

The Spokane County coroner has no key to the morgue and he is furious.

He’s asked over and over, but no one will give him a key - not laboratory workers, not maintenance workers, not even the president of Holy Family Hospital, where the county morgue is located.

Hospital president Ron Schurra refused Amend’s most recent request for a key Thursday, outraging the coroner, who hung up on him.

“It’s like the tail’s been wagging the dog,” said Amend, who gets angry just talking about it.

Ultimately, Amend wants not only a key but also office space next to the autopsy room.

Hospital officials insist it’ll never happen.

Amend covets the space mostly because it’s plusher than his small downtown quarters and closer to his North Side home, said Schurra.

“Sometimes, he says it’s my ego,” Amend complained.

Tension has been mounting since Amend took office last year, inheriting a new, unusual contract between the hospital and the county. During the next decade, taxpayers will pay $406,498 for a recent, state-of-the-art renovation. In return, the county gets free use of the space for autopsies.

Just how much access the coroner gets is hotly disputed and under review by county attorneys.

The contract reads, “The premises shall be used by the county for the purposes of performing autopsies, office space for administrative functions, and evidence and body storage.”

That doesn’t mean Amend can put a permanent office there, said Schurra, who maintains it wouldn’t be appropriate for the coroner’s clients

to stop by during autopsies.

Holy Family officials never would have struck a deal giving space to a county agency, Schurra said. “It’s not a public place.”

County Commissioner Steve Hasson said hospital officials have sent an underlying, rude message to Amend: “You’re a heathen coroner and you don’t belong in this place.”

Hasson, who helped create the disputed contract, said he always expected the coroner would have open access to the morgue.

“They got these nice digs at public expense. Now they’re saying to the public, ‘Go away.”’

But the morgue, located near a back employee entrance, was never convenient for public use, said Schurra.

If Amend moved in, the pathologist who performs most of the county’s criminal autopsies would have to move out. There isn’t enough room for both Amend and Pathology Associates, which the hospital allows to use the space rent-free.

“This is basically a lab,” said David Hoak, a doctor who performs autopsies. “The hospital never intended for this to be a coroner’s office.”

Amend, a retired urologist, openly admits his disdain for his crowded office on Broadway, near the county courthouse. “That space down there is almost a crime,” he said.

But he wants to move mostly so he can monitor all autopsies, he said, even if he’s not conducting them. It’s part of his job, he said.

During a visit to the morgue Friday, he couldn’t get in until someone inside opened the door for him.

He pointed out the computer equipment and office furniture he believes should be his. “Everything in this area, the county paid for it.”

The squabble may grow into a legal battle, Hasson said, and he’s confident the county will win.

“He ought to be shown a little respect for the position he has in the community,” Hasson said.

“At least a key, for heaven’s sake.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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