Chief Medical Examiner pleads for more state funding

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FARMINGTON – Connecticut’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is asking the state for financial help to allow them to keep up with the increased volume of mandated death investigations they are now facing.

Chief Examiner Dr. James Gill made the request before legislators at the state capital Monday. He explained the department has seen a 64 percent spike in the number of mandated autopsies over the last three years.

In those same three years, the department reports a rise in the number of accidental drug overdose deaths from 495 in 2013 to 917 in 2016, with the majority of those deaths opioid related. The National Association of Medical Examiners said similar spikes in opioid overdose deaths have put a strain on departments in several other states across the country.

“The increase in autopsies is largely based on two factors,” said Gill. “The first is the increase in overdose deaths. The second is our improvement in death scene investigations. We have been able to get our investigators to over 90 percent of the medical examiner death scenes compared to about 60 percent a few years ago.  Our investigators are quite experienced and specially trained to investigate scenes/decedents for evidence of unnatural causes of death.  The more they look, the more they find. ”

Gill said Monday that the Connecticut’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is currently short-staffed, forcing overtime pay. That combined with the increase in mandated autopsies and recent budget changes has left the department $300,000 in the red.

He also said the staffing shortage is one of the reasons the department lost their national accreditation earlier this year. He said the other reason is the shortage in body storage. The department is in the early stages of a building a new refrigeration storage unit.

“Yesterday’s testimony was about our current $300,000 projected deficiency for our current budget,” said Gill Tuesday.  “This is the same deficiency that we had last year related to our increased workload. Last year’s deficiency was never “annualized” which means they did not increase our current budget to reflect these new budget needs from the increased work. Since last year’s deficiency was never annualized, it has recurred this year.  We would hope that the new budget would annualize this deficiency and fund the 2 medical examiner positions.”