Incumbent Orleans Parish Coroner Jeffrey Rouse has withdrawn his re-election campaign to return to private psychiatric practice, greeting the election of Dwight McKenna as the city’s first African-American coroner as the “logical next step” for the evolution of the office.
Rouse, whose absence from re-election forums had drawn notice, said in a statement Thursday afternoon that he can better serve the city by returning to the front lines to fight the mental-health crisis. He praised McKenna’s plan for “a more public role for the Coroner’s office in health education and violence prevention,” and promised to work with him to transfer the responsibilities of the office.
Read Rouse’s full statement below:
It has been an honor to serve our community as your Coroner over the past four years; however, I have decided that the best way for me to use the lessons I’ve learned from the Coroner’s office is to expand my clinical role on the front lines of the City’s mental health crisis — by serving patients with severe psychiatric illnesses who are involved in the criminal justice system. The mental health crisis in our City is real, and I am refocusing my professional energies in that direction.
I ran for Coroner because of my belief that New Orleans needed a modernized coroner’s office as a key node in the criminal justice system. My team and I set strategic goals four years ago and I am proud to report our achievements:
1. Improved the death investigation process by creating a full team of medicolegal death investigators
2. Intervened in our City’s mental health crisis by exercising our power to commit individuals with severe mental health illnesses to institutions for treatment
3. Brought transparency to the investigation of deaths that occur in the custody of law enforcement agencies to renew the community’s faith in this office and the criminal justice agencies we support
4. Improved the efficiency of the Coroner’s office with a digital records system and improved case completion times so that the office can fulfill its role as an integral part of the criminal justice system.
I reluctantly qualified for re-election several weeks ago based upon my commitment to serve our city. After careful consideration, I have determined the best way for me to do that is to refocus on my clinical and forensic psychiatric professional practice. In this work, I have the opportunity to prevent more suffering and death before the Coroner’s office gets involved. To that end, I am withdrawing my candidacy for the upcoming election.
My strengths are more technical than political, behind the scenes rather than in the spotlight. I have sat with Dr. McKenna for an extended time, and I am convinced that his plan for a more public role for the Coroner’s office in health education and violence prevention is the logical next step for the evolution of this office, now that a strong team is in place and internal processes here have been updated. In the remaining months of my term, I shall share with Dr. McKenna the many facets of this complicated job, as one physician transferring the care of a patient to a colleague. I congratulate Dr. McKenna on his persistence and on becoming the first African-American Coroner for our great city.