FARMINGTON, Conn (WTNH) — Connecticut’s Chief Medical Examiner’s Office expects to lose national accreditation if their staffing levels do not improve by January.
That warning comes from the National Association of Medical Examiners, who found Conn.’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner understaffed and overworked. The national organization, also known as N.A.M.E., inspects and evaluates medical examiner and coroner offices across the country. N.A.M.E. says that around 115 million Americans live in an accredited jurisdiction; In 2017, it is expected that Conn.’s residents no longer will.
“The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner faces many challenges related to inadequate funding and insufficient staffing,” reads a letter dated October 13 from N.A.M.E. addressed to Dr. Gill, explaining the reasons for their likely loss of accreditation. “Most notably, there are insufficient numbers of forensic pathologists, medicolegal death investigators, and clerical personnel for the volume of cases in Connecticut.”
Because of the state’s drug crisis, the volume of cases in Conn. has increased for a dwindling staff. Dr. Gill said during a state legislative testimony last November that the number of autopsies have risen over 50 percent from 2013, due to drug intoxication deaths. According to N.A.M.E., the ideal caseload for each staff member at a medical examiner’s office is 250 autopsies a year; Dr. Gill says his staff performs between 325 to 381.
Despite Dr. Gill’s warning in November 2015, he continued to notify lawmakers over the last year of the impending loss of accreditation, which he said will impact the credibility of his office and reduce timeliness for death investigations in the state.
“The wheels are about to fall off and we’ve already given away our spare tire,” Dr. Gill said in March 2016 during a legislative hearing.
A spokesperson for Conn.’s Office of Policy Management said today in a statement below that heroin deaths are to blame for the difficulties at Dr. Gill’s office.
“Dr. Gill and his staff have the unenviable duty of facing the worst of the opioid crisis which has increased the number of autopsies the Chief Medical Examiner must perform. We appreciate the insights of outside accreditation entities, but the legislature and Governor must ultimately set the resource levels for the agency. We will strongly consider the requests of OCME [Office of the Chief Medical Examiner] in developing the Governor’s budget proposal and we will continue working with DMHAS [Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services] and first responders across the state to fight opioid addiction and prevent overdose deaths.”
Last month, Conn.’s budget office approved two staff additions at the medical examiner’s office, including a Laboratory Assistant and a Principal Physician. But Dr. Gill says those positions are not enough. In an email, Dr. Gill told News 8 that these positions replace a resigning medical examiner, and that at least two more medical examiners are needed additionally to meet the deficiencies that N.A.M.E. found. He added that the lab assistant position is only one of a total of five needed.
Then, he concluded his email with the same message that he’s been trying to convey to the state for the last year. “We still have a long way to go.”