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Too many deaths, not enough medical examiners

Posted at 3:22 PM, May 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-16 18:48:13-04

As the number of opioid-related deaths continues to climb, the workload on medical examiners has also increased to a point where some have stopped doing autopsies.

That is not the case in Erie County - yet, said Dr. Gale Burstein, Commissioner of Health, but the workload of dealing with suspicious deaths is a great concern.

The situation is made more critical in Erie County because the Associate Chief Medical Examiner will be departing the office on June 23rd.  At the same time, the Chief Medical Examiner will be out on extended medical leave through Fall.  That will leave only one full time medical examiner.

To deal with the situation, the Erie County Legislature has approved a request for the Erie County Health Department to hire six "fee-for-service" pathologists to fill-in on a rotating basis.

The positions will be funded with $200,00 available through vacancy savings and the less-than-anticipated fringe benefit costs in the Medical Examiners Division.

Besides determining the cause of death, medical examiners play a key role in discovering what type of dangerous drugs are circulating on the streets and causing the overdose deaths.

It is hoped the new fill-in forensic pathologists can begin their duties in June.

7 Eyewitness News Reporter Ed Reilly has more in his reports.