After a full first year, Muscogee County Coroner Buddy Bryan's work is paying off.
In 2013, Bryan faced several challenges. He took responsibility for an estimated 70 percent of the city's indigent deaths, undertook educational efforts for young mothers and saw the overall death rate rise by 10 percent compared to 2012.
Wednesday, he received notification that The Child Fatality Review Panel had named him "Coroner of the Year."
"I'm stunned, really, and I couldn't have done it without my staff," Bryan said. "There's 159 counties in the state, and to be my first year I'm humbled. But I have worked hard and diligently in this office."
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The Child Fatality Review Panel oversees each county's Child Fatality Review Committee. Those committees are tasked with determining "the cause and circumstances around child deaths.
For the award, the panel considers each coroner and medical examiner in the state. The panel additionally chooses a Child Fatality Review Committee of the year. This year's award went to Cherokee County.
Bryan said although all death categories rose during 2013, recipients are considered based on the educational work they do in the community to lower the infant mortality rate. In Bryan's case, that education takes the form of guest speaking in Columbus State University and local high school classrooms about parenting.
"It's really going to area schools and colleges and giving talks to the classes, to the females about the right way to raise a baby," Bryan said. "Things like not sharing a bed with your child and not putting a bunch of stuffed animals or blankets in the crib."
Bryan will be recognized by the Georgia Senate for his efforts. The date for that recognition has not been determined.
For now, Bryan plans to focus on how to help the city. After local homeless man Paul Garner died of exposure, Bryan donated a funeral plot as part of an effort to give Garner a proper burial.
He said he has been moved to do more for the homeless community. Part of that effort will include collaborating with homeless shelters to create a registry, so that if a death occurs that person can be identified more easily. That would also make efforts to reach remaining family members easier, Bryan said.
"We ride by them on the street every day. I think more can be done for those folks," Bryan said.