BALTIMORE – An unprecedented number of autopsies are observed in the office of the Maryland Chief Medical Officer. Delays mean families have to wait weeks to say goodbye to their loved ones who have been killed or overdosed.
“The targets are accumulating and collapsing right in front of everyone’s eyes,” said Patrick Moran, president of the AFSCME Council 3, whose members are autopsy assistants and forensic experts. “Goals are decomposing, and so are those who have lost their lives and families seeking closure.”
More than 200 bodies are awaiting autopsy. Moran said union members are describing a horrific scene at an agency in Baltimore that is responsible for investigating violent or suspicious deaths, including all deaths without medical supervision.
“It’s pretty vile and pretty unhealthy,” Moran said.
When space was scarce, the Maryland Department of Health turned downtown parking into a morgue until a permanent extension could be built.
“The additional shelter that has been provided allows us to have a sufficient capacity for the dead who can await the autopsy, as well as the dead who are completed and awaiting funeral homes,” said Dr. Jinlin Chan, MDH’s deputy secretary. at a meeting of the subcommittee of the House of Representatives last week.
Dr Chan said the backlog has been widening over the past few weeks. This is due to the high vacancy rate (17.2 percent in December) and the increase in the number of resource-intensive homicides and drug overdoses.
A MDH spokesman said there was a shortage of qualified applicants across the country.
Moran said maintaining a sufficient staff was a long challenge.
As of December, there were three vacancies for almost a year. Firefighters have retired or resigned over the past two years, and three more are expected to retire soon.
“We need them to recruit more people to do this job. They need to look at what people need. The resources people need to get the job done, the salary it takes to get the job done, and take action.
A statement from MDH said they offer very competitive salaries and they carry out direct advocacy to fill vacancies by nominating a hiring specialist specifically for OCME.
To help with the growing workload, MDH has added 21 new positions, including medical experts, toxicologists and support professionals.
At the same time, FEMA is supplying two pathologists and two pathology assistants to provide additional OCME support starting this week.
Delays ultimately affect families grieving the loss of a loved one.
“Families are still worried because they have lost someone dear to them, so this increases the level of anxiety,” said Erich W. March, vice president and CEO of the March Funeral Home.
March said the OCME takes two days to conduct the autopsy. It is now two weeks since the date of death, forcing families to wait to say goodbye.
“This complicates the family’s plans for their memorial service or commemoration because they don’t have an exact date when the training can be completed,” March said.
OCME is accredited by the National Association of Medical Experts or NAME. To maintain this status, there are certain standards that they must meet, and these problems cause violations.
The NAME standard is that no autopsy doctor should perform more than 325 autopsies per year. In fiscal 2021, OCME reported its highest rate of 390 autopsies performed per ME, well above the Phase II standard.
In Art Analysis of the MDH budget for 23 fgThe Department of Legislative Services wrote that while OCME may continue to operate without accreditation, accreditation from NAME increases public confidence that the office is doing its job properly, and limits questions about the validity of ME findings in court.
DLS noted that increased ME vacancies and more cases have led to this ratio, and this is likely to have a lasting impact on recruitment and maintenance efforts.
Abby Isaac of WMAR first reported the story.