The rise in cremations has created an “incredible” workload for the coroner

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A surge in demand for cremation has caused the Lebanon District’s coroner “an incredible amount of work,” officials say.

The Coroner’s Office investigated 498 deaths in 2021, and 411 were classified as natural causes. The county coroner, Dr. Jeffrey Yocum, in his annual report to commissioners on Thursday, said the county had a total of 93 COVID-19 deaths from those natural deaths last year.

The number of cremation calls in the county has increased, with over 980 cremation investigations in 2021. Every cremation in Lebanon County must be examined by the coroner before the body is handed over to the funeral homes.

In 2019, the coroner’s office inspected 772 cremations. That’s an increase of 208 in investigations from 2019 to 2021.

Yocum said some of the surge was due to the COVID pandemic, “but not all”.

“It’s just that more and more people are turning to funeral cremation, and I don’t think people realize how much work goes into investigating to clear up these cases (and) turn them over to the funeral home.” said Yocum. “We have to pull all the medical records and that has been a lot of work for the office.”

According to Yocum, the county is reimbursed about $50 for each cremation it investigates.

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A total of 31 deaths in 2021 were attributed to drug-related causes, including 26 to fentanyl use. Officials say the numbers are similar to those from across the Commonwealth.

“I can tell you, when I talk to addicts every day like I do, addicts pretty much know that everything they buy today has fentanyl in it,” said Yocum, who is certified in drug and addiction medicine .

James Donmoyer Jr., the director of the Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission, said the county is seeing a decline due to more active awareness programs, the expansion of services related to medically-assisted treatment, and an increase in narcan kit distribution.

“In Lebanon County, we distributed over 631 (narcan) kits in 2021, a lot more than in previous years,” he said.

The coroner’s office reported 19 suicides in 2021, down from the 21 reported in 2020. More than 11 of those cases were gunshot fatalities.

“There were 12 of those 19 people who had a known mental health history,” said Holly Leahy, the county’s director of mental health/intellectual disabilities/early intervention. “Five also had a known history of substance abuse.”

While the number of those who have died by suicide has declined, Leahy said that individuals with “suicidal thoughts or intentions” are actually quite large.

“During the year, 3,011 people attended the crisis (intervention),” she said. “That’s an average of 260 visits per month. Of those, we look at the ones that are duplicate people… so there were actually 208 non-duplicate people.”

The Coroner’s Office investigated five homicides in Lebanon County in 2021. The county has seen three counts of murders in the past month, two of which have yet to be apprehended by police as of Friday.

On February 25, Lebanon City Police arrested Jouse Ortiz Serrano, 18, for allegedly shooting Jean Alvarado Rosado, 32, at the 300 block North 8th Street on February 22. Rosado was taken to a local hospital for treatment, where he died of his injuries.

Serrano was charged with murder and is currently being held without bail in the Lebanon County Correctional Facility.

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Before 9 p.m. on February 15, Jason Rivera was shot dead on the 300 block of Vine Street in South Lebanon Township, just outside the southern city limits. A resident of Palm City Mobile Home Park, Cory Heft, 41, was shot dead when two masked intruders broke into his home on February 16.

Police were still investigating these incidents with no arrest reported as of Friday afternoon.

Matthew Toth is a reporter for the Lebanon Daily News. You can reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter at @DAMattToth.

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