Dr. Beau Clark, the East Baton Rouge Parish coroner, says he's seeking a third term so he can continue his office's initiatives on death and sexual assault investigations, and remain a key player in the fight to address mental health and the parish's opioid epidemic.
His challenger, Dr. Rani Whitfield, says he has his eye on those issues as well, but also wants to use the platform as a way to better inform the community about health-related trends and issues.
Voters will choose between Clark, a Republican, and Whitfield, a Democrat, in the Oct. 12 election. Early voting, which started Saturday, concludes Oct. 5.
"When I was elected coroner, the office was in disarray," said Clark, who first took office in 2011. "I basically had to rebuild the entire organization, from staffing and training, clean-up lingering investigations and create a hands-on approach in the every day activities overseen by the Coroner's Office."
Clark says he's the first coroner to publish annual reports highlighting statistics from his office, he increased self-generated revenue from 9% to 26%, implemented an electronic procedure to process death certificates, and sounded the alarm on the parish's rising opioid crisis, resulting in new legislation and awareness.
If re-elected, his priorities include completing staff training in pediatric forensic sexual assault examinations, work toward preventing cases of sudden infant death syndrome, and making sure treatment is available to those suffering with mental illness instead of incarcerating them.
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Clark said having the opportunity to continue his work toward completion of the Bridge Center for Hope would be a major asset in helping him do that.
"I have not looked back and have moved the office forward with more effectively trained investigators … as well as full transparency," Clark said. "This resulted in our office being the Gold Standard for Coroner offices through the state."
Whitfield has built his campaign platform on community, engagement, transparency and visibility. And, he said, working with state and parish leaders on spreading the word about health issues is the core of his platform.
"Through social media outlets, my administration will share statistics/data with the community in an accessible and user friendly platform," he said. "My administration won't just document death. We will teach the parish how to preserve life with consistent messaging as it relates to preventable and treatable diseases."
Whitfield, who has run a private family practice in Baton Rouge since 2000, has pinned opioid epidemic, mental health and regular training for crime scene investigators as focal points for his administration as well.
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But he also wants to implement a parishwide organ donor campaign, focus more resources on helping young people and increase the office's communication with local funeral homes and hospice facilities.
The isn't the first time Whitfield has run for public office. He vied for a seat on the Metro Council in 2016 but ended up withdrawing from the race after his business and family was greatly impacted by the historic floods that year.
"I'm a physician who has extensive experience managing patients who are dually diagnosed and I'm currently working with a forensic pathologist on crime scenes," Whitfield said. "I've managed over 50 employees before as the chief medical officer for a federally qualified health center. I'm very connected to the community and beyond."