Over the past few months, we have received information from three different local families that reveal a conflict of interest involving the Chief Medical Examiner of Kent County, Dr. Stephen D. Cohle. You may have heard of the name. Cohle is a bit of media hound. Last year the Grand Rapids Press ran a feature story on the man in which the good doctor bragged about the emotional boost his new Porsche gave him after his recent divorce. Unfortunately, the issue at hand is not the trivial matter of Cohle’s personal priorities.
Each family has reported to us a similar story: A close relative died while in the care of a Spectrum Health Corporation facility under suspicious circumstances. The grieving family ordered a private independent autopsy from Laboratory Pathologists P.C. for $2,500. The findings of the autopsy from Laboratory Pathologists exonerated Spectrum Health of any wrongdoing. However, upon closer examination the autopsy was incomplete and failed to meet professional standards.
Come to find out, Laboratory Pathologists is not independent at all. It has a big contract with Spectrum Health to provide its network with pathology services. Moreover, nine of the thirteen physicians who own Laboratory Pathologists are on the staff of Spectrum Health. In fact, one of the owners is a Spectrum Health medical director and two others are associate medical directors. Obviously, Laboratory Pathologists know which side of its bread is buttered, and it isn’t the side providing purportedly independent autopsies to the families.
Of course, the families cheated by Laboratory Pathologists have recourse to the government right? The Kent County medical examiner can and should investigate suspicious deaths, right? You would think so, but think again when the county’s chief medical examiner is an owner and an officer of Laboratory Pathologists. That’s right, folks. Cohle, our chief medical examiner, owns and operates Laboratory Pathologists. In fact, Cohle provides his services to Kent County through Laboratory Pathologists. So, the chief medical examiner, unlike the chief prosecutor or the police chief or the fire chief, is not full-time government official but a part-time private freelancer. The bottom line is that Cohle earns a substantial portion of his income from Spectrum Health, so he cannot make any disinterested judgment as to whether or not a death in a Spectrum Health facility is suspicious and merits the attention of the county’s medical examiner office.
The Kent County Board of Commissioners is well aware of this conflict of interest. They have been advised of the actual problems that have arisen from this conflict and the distress it has caused at least three local families. Yet they have done nothing about it. This conflict is unacceptable. We would not put up with a county prosecutor who was also a partner in a law firm providing criminal defense services. Why is it OK to have a medical examiner who is a hireling of the local healthcare behemoth where legitimate questions routinely arise as to its culpability for deaths occurring in its facilities? It’s not. We are entitled to have all of our principal public safety officers serve as disinterested public servants whose judgments are not compromised by private business deals.
Give your support to these local families who got no justice from Cohle and his company. Demand that the Kent County Board of Commissioners hire a chief medical examiner who works only for us.
NOTE: Also read about other developments, how Spectrum cowed the reporting of WXYZ-TV news and how the City of Grand Rapids erased the record of this issue from the City Commission minutes, here and here.