13 October 2018 09:53AM
I first came to know Bernadette Powis at Saturday readings of Howard Zinn’s book, A People’s History of the United States. Zinn was a scholar and his work is dense with facts backed up by quotes from historical documents, which makes it all the more heartwrenching and eye opening and difficult to read. Our small group took turns reading aloud for two hours every Saturday until all 729 pages were read. Some of us choked back tears while trying to read especially brutal passages. In the discussions which followed, Powis’s immense compassion was apparent, her insights were true and real with an underlying grit that some might underestimate when hearing her gentle voice.
Sheri Bauer-Mayorga, the singer/songwriter and political activist who orchestrated the Zinn readings, met Powis at canvassing for the Bernie Sanders campaign. “I soon learned her talent was in talking with people and engaging in meaningful dialogue,” said Bauer-Mayorga. “Her clarity and empathy were a magnet. Many times the conversation would veer into deeper issues: healthcare, economic issues, the opioid crisis, housing problems. Bernadette’s years of nursing and remaining calm and clear in difficult situations was definitely one explanation for this compassionate charisma. The other I attribute to having been born with the gift for empathy.”
During her run for Kinderhook Town Council last year, Powis said, “We’re supposed to be very focused on winning – door knocking with a purpose – but I prefer door knocking just to see who is there. I’ve had wonderful conversations with people at their front door. Sometimes I’d even get invited inside to talk.”
When Lee Jamison and Erin Stamper of the Columbia County Democratic Committee approached Powis about running for County Coroner after Crickett Coleman resigned, her thoughts were, “Columbia County needs someone [like Coleman] with a medical background. I have that. I live here. And when I look back at all my jobs, I’ve always wanted to be helpful to people who most needed help. Why wouldn’t I do this?”
Powis became a Registered Nurse (RN) when she was a young mother in 1977. She went on to become a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) with her Masters Degree in 1993, and then obtained her post-masters certification as a Nurse Practitioner Psychiatric (NPP) in 2004.
“I love learning,” said Powis. “I’m detail oriented, methodical, I have a good work ethic, and I understand how hard the job of Coroner is; it’s a way of life, being on call 26 out of 30 days every month. I’m prepared to make serving as the Coroner the main focus of my life.””
Lisa Testa, Ph.D., a Clinical Psychologist who worked with Powis at Zucker Hillside Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Queens, New York, said, “Bernadette and I shared many patients together, some with very difficult symptoms. Bernadette was skilled, hardworking, dedicated, empathetic, realistic, caring and honest – and overall just a great person.”
“I recommend Bernadette Powis for Coroner without reservation,” said Maryann Riccardo, a Clinic Manager who also worked with Powis in Queens. “She is an intelligent, dedicated, hardworking nurse practitioner and a compassionate, caring, empathetic professional. She will be a definite asset to any organization.”
Another Zucker co-worker, CSW Shai Solomon, said, “She is smart, kind, tough, highly ethical and her treatment plans were always on time!”
It seems imperative that a County Coroner have some sort of medical training, as well as be independent of any police agencies in the county, especially if there were to be questions about deaths in police custody.
This is from an NPR piece entitled, Run For Coroner, No Medical Training Necessary:
“Electing a coroner is a holdover from medieval English common law, where the coroner’s job was to determine how and when people had died in order to collect taxes. That system worked in early America, too.
“But in the 1920s, the National Academy of Sciences recommended that jurisdictions switch to having an appointed medical examiner.
“And in a lot of places, if the sheriff committed a crime, it was the coroner’s job to make the arrest.
“Fast-forward almost 100 years, and only 16 states have made that switch. The state of New York leaves it up to the counties.”
Columbia County shares a medical examiner with several nearby counties. If an autopsy is needed, the medical examiner from Albany is called.
“County Coroner is an incredibly important office. It calls for a strong, sensitive person with a medical background who can support grieving families and loved ones, who can answer their questions about what happened to their loved one,” said Powis.
“Women’s voices are desperately needed to add balance and truth to our local and national political discourse, and I feel privileged to be able to add my voice to all the other voices of women running for office this year!”