Office of Medical Examiner to lose accreditation due to inadequate staffing to deal with increase in overdose deaths

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FARMINGTON–The state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is set to lose its accreditation this summer due to a combination of budget cuts and an increase in overdose deaths.

The office currently holds full accreditation from the National Association of Medical Examiners, meaning that the office performs “sound and timely death investigations,” which in turn “instills confidence in the police departments, attorneys, and the families we serve.” A loss of accreditation would mean the office couldn’t “meet the minimal standards of practice for death investigation.”

According to testimony from Dr. James Gill, the state’s chief medical examiner, there has been a 58 percent increase in autopsies in the state over the past two years, “in large part due the increase in our investigations of substance abuse deaths.” For accidental intoxication, there has been a 27.29 percent increase in deaths between 2014 and 2015, and the number for 2016 could be even higher.

He said that with the enormous increase in “mandated work,” yet without any staffing or funding increases, it is impossible to keep up. Also, the office is legally prohibited from outsourcing autopsies, and obviously can’t change its workload in any way.

“We cannot…decrease the number of homicides, accidents, or suicides that occur each year in Connecticut,” Gill said. “We have no control of when or how many deaths require an investigation each year.”

According to Gill’s testimony, the office proposed hiring and re-organizational plans that could have saved the office money, but a hiring freeze prevented a full implementation of that plan, and overtime costs have subsequently been astronomical to deal with the workload. Therefore, Gill says that “given this upward but leveling trend of deaths, the current deficit will recur next year and every year until our base is reset.”

He related the issues to individual families, who without the “dedicated” staff that works overtime, would have to delay funerals and collection of life insurance due to what would be a backlog in autopsies and issuing of death certificates.

The office has in fact started to see delays in those practices due to each autopsy technician performing more than the recommended number of autopsies by the National Association of Medical Examiners. If that continues, mistakes that could be made would “put people’s lives at risk, can result in the innocent imprisoned, and cost millions of dollars in civil claims.”

The fiscal year 2016 deficiency is $456,000, but an additional 5.75 percent in expected budget cuts means the total effective budget cuts will be 10.52 percent for fiscal year 2017.