CT medical examiner failing to meet national standards - WFSB 3 Connecticut

CT medical examiner failing to meet national standards

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Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (WFSB) Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (WFSB)

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner lost their accreditation from a highly respected association.

It's all centered around the lack of forensic pathologists to handle a skyrocketing caseload.

The I-Team first examined backlogs at the medical examiner’s office in 2011. Years have passed since the station’s first reports and the problems found out it's only gotten worse.  

The only reason that the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner was expected to lose the accreditation is because there are too many autopsies to be done and not enough doctors to do them. The fix would be to hire more doctors, but with budget woes, it's just not that simple.  

According to numbers provided by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, their workload has skyrocketed by more than 50 percent in just the last two years. 

In 2012, there were five forensic pathologists to do 1,333 autopsies every year. That’s 266 autopsies per person.

As of 2016, there are seven of them tasked with doing an estimated 2,357. That’s 336 per person. The highest they've been in half a decade. 

The National Association of Medical Examiners suggests a normal workload is 250 autopsies per person, per year. That's why they're on the verge of pulling the accreditation.

Autopsies will still get done, but maybe not as fast. And as evidenced in our 2011 I-Team report, it costs families’ money. 

“This is four months out of our lives that we've sat and waited for an answer,” Kathy Hudson said.

Hudson had to wait 17 weeks for her son's death certificate and the insurance policy wouldn't pay out. The funeral home started threatening to charge higher interest rates, and the medical examiner kept delaying the process. 

“I called at 12 weeks they said, at least two more weeks,” Hudson said. 

The potential problems don't end there. Criminal defense attorney Gerald Klein said losing the accreditation can help him poke holes in the medical examiner's quality of work in those rare cases when the cause of death is vague.

“The doctor could be crossed examined and say 'well, the agency you work for Dr. lost their accreditation, isn't that right,’” Klein said.  “'There's fertile ground during the cross examination.”

For those wanting to know the reason the death rate is spiking, look no further than opioids. 

“It is a gigantic problem,” Gov. Dannel Malloy said. “It's not the Medical Examiner, it's opioid addiction.”

But, that doesn't change the fact that autopsies still need to be done and there's not enough doctors to do them. The chief medical examiner would like $1.13 million to hire more staff and has made appeals in the last two years.

The Connecticut Office of Policy Management told Eyewitness News "...the legislature and Governor must ultimately set the resource levels for the agency.  We will strongly consider the requests of OCME in developing the Governor’s budget proposal."

There are hundreds of medical examiners offices nationwide, some are state-run while others city-run. Eighty-two of them are accredited through National Association of Medical Examiners.

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