Medical examiner backlog causing heartache - WFSB 3 Connecticut

I-Team Investigation

Medical examiner backlog causing heartache


A backlog at the medical examiner's office in Farmington is causing heartache for families all over the state. It's a problem the I-Team has been following for more than two years, and chief investigative reporter Eric Parker said he has uncovered a possible solution.

To be blunt there's just not a good situation where someone is awaiting autopsy results, but the families the I-Team talked to all agree it's even worse when the results are delayed.

And the problem has been growing.

His family said his personality was larger than life and was a proud big brother who lit up every room he entered.

That's why it was so shocking when Scott Lovito was found dead at just 21 years old.

"At 2 a.m. she says goodnight to her son, and he's perfectly healthy and they're talking and happy," Lovito's aunt, Cheryl Costa, said. "Eight hours later she goes to wake him up and he's, he's dead."

Lovito's mother made the horrible discovery and said there were no clues near the body to explain what happened, and they were awaiting word from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner where autopsies are conducted.

"If it is a medical condition or something of that nature, we'd like to know. If it's something genetic," Lovito's mother, Kimberly Lapegna, said. "My daughter said to me, 'It's not going to bring my brother back,' I want him back, but we want to know what happened to him. And nobody seems to be helping us and that's even more heartbreaking for me."

But as days turned into weeks and then months, there were still no answers.

So Lovito's aunt started calling daily.

She said she was finally told that a private lab would provide toxicology and pathology results and that was the only thing still outstanding.

"They gave me the name of the laboratory, so I contacted the laboratory," Lapegna said. "They said they're an independent laboratory, they pride themselves on their turnaround town and the worst case scenario would take three weeks. When I brought that information back to the medical examiner that I had spoken with them, that's when they finally felt to inform me that, ‘You know what, we haven't even sent out the pathology and the toxicology.'"

It hadn't even been ordered, though months had passed since Lovito's death. The family was furious.

"I was informed that their backlog was just out the door, and like hundreds of other people in my position, we would be lucky if within six months they would be sending out the pathology to the laboratory," Lapegna said.

The backlog is a problem the I-Team has been covering for two years.

We told you the story of Gale Cuddy - the 38-year-old Wethersfield man who died suddenly and his mother who was told it would be six months before she got answers. At the time the chief medical examiner was H. Wayne Carver, and he was blunt.

He showed the I-Team standards from the National Association of Medical Examiners that said it's a major deficiency if 90 percent of cases aren't complete in 90 days.

He said at the time that his staff wasn't even coming close to that.

"The whole purpose of this place is to supply information that helps people solve problems with difficult deaths, and if we're not publishing it, we're not helping," Carver said. "This is as bad as I've seen it."

And since the I-Team spoke with Carver, the problem got worse. Routine checks by the I-Team saw the delay grow from six months to eight months, and Lovito's family said they were told to brace for at least a year.

But that might be changing.

Now new Chief Medical Examiner Dr. James Gill told the I-Team this month he ordered that every delayed case go to an outside lab. He said the backlog should be cleared up in about a month and then the staff in Farmington will stay on top of new cases.

Gill said he was too busy to talk to the I-Team on camera but sent a statement saying, "The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner apologizes to the families who have had to wait, in some cases several months, for the determination of the cause of death in suspected drug intoxication deaths. This delay was due to a backlog in the toxicology lab. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner anticipates that the entire toxicology backlog will be cleared within the next month. Comprehensive forensic toxicology testing takes days to weeks to complete depending upon the complexity of the case."

The family doesn't know what the answer will be or if it will help or hurt even more. But they do know they want answers and they want them the moment they're available.

"Along with my frustration, my heart cries out for the hundreds of other people that they're telling me are in the same situation as us," Costa said.

The cost for the outside testing is approximately $2,500 a month and the samples are sent to a lab in Pennsylvania.

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