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Firing by coroner seen as political

Deputy coroner Desiderio says coroner sees him as threat. Dr. Consalvo denies it.

Luzerne County Deputy Coroner Jim Desiderio said he was fired from a work assignment he had for nine years because he plans to run against Coroner Jack Consalvo in 2007.

Consalvo said the change was made to improve service to the public – period.

The assignment involves responding to coroner calls at Geisinger South Wilkes-Barre. Until Tuesday, Desiderio was the first responder to be called.

Deputy coroners must investigate when certain deaths occur in hospitals, such as those in emergency rooms or within 24 hours of admission. Deputies who respond are paid $55 to $65 to meet with medical staff and the deceased person’s survivors to determine if an autopsy and further investigation are warranted.

Desiderio was notified Tuesday that he was being removed from the post because he had a 53 percent response rate to calls from the hospital during June, July and August.

Consalvo said Wednesday that he started tracking responses in June because he wants response rates of at least 80 percent. The reason: Already grieving families must wait longer at the hospital when back-up responders must be tracked down, and Consalvo said he wants contact to happen within 20 minutes.

Dan Hughes and Joseph Jacobs, funeral director deputies who live near the hospital, will now be assigned to respond, said Chief Deputy Coroner William Lisman.

“They were tabbed because they are already deputies and have very good response track records. Both are within four-minute drives to the hospital because they’re both South Wilkes-Barre residents,” Lisman said. “I don’t feel this is political in any way, shape or form.”

But Desiderio said the percentage calculation was unfairly skewed because he had told the county that he would temporarily miss more calls this summer because he is building a house. Desiderio maintains that Lisman told him his absence would be no problem -- something Lisman denies.

Desiderio said the 80-percent standard and plans to track response starting in June weren’t spelled out in advance, and he believes the change is against the public’s best interest because the deputies replacing him at Geisinger South and don’t have his 24 years of experience.

“I just think it’s a political move, and I’d like everyone to know what kind of guy he is,” Desiderio said of Consalvo.

Consalvo said all deputies were notified about the 80-percent standard, and he said Desiderio will keep his status as a deputy so he can continue to respond to calls as needed.

“If I wanted to do something politically, I would’ve taken his badge away, which I rightfully could’ve done over this issue,” Consalvo said.

Desiderio believes Consalvo wants him out of the picture because he’s a threat in the Democratic race for coroner.

Consalvo said he’s confident voters will support the work he’s done since he was nominated to the post earlier this year due to the death of former Coroner George Hudock.

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