Briefs

Shortage of forensic pathologists contributes to backlog in autopsy reports, official says

By: - October 17, 2023 4:00 pm

Matthew Izzo, chief administrator at the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, addresses the Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability Tuesday morning. (Will Price | West Virginia Legislative Photography)

A shortage of forensic pathologists and a high number of cases continue to contribute to long turnaround times for autopsy reports in West Virginia, lawmakers were told Tuesday. 

Matthew Izzo, chief administrator for the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, told members of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability the office takes an average of 240 days to complete autopsy reports. 

“We do have several vacancies with regard to full-time forensic pathologists, which significantly contributes to the delay and the backlog,” Izzo said. 

Izzo said the office currently has 308 autopsy reports that have been pending for longer than a year. Forty-six of the decedents were unidentified, meaning that the remaining 262 could be completed, he said.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner does not conduct autopsies for every death in the state — only those of people who die by homicide, suicide, those of people in apparent good health, children, those incarcerated in public institutions, and those that are suspicious or unnatural.

Izzo said he expects the medical examiner’s office to conduct 3,600 to 3,800 autopsies this year. The state had about 26,000 deaths in 2020, according to the state Bureau for Public Health. 

The office uses part-time physicians to supplement its workforce, Izzo said.

The medical examiner’s office currently has five full-time forensic pathologists. With part-time staff, the office has the equivalent of six full-time pathologists, Izzo said. 

In order to meet national standards that forensic pathologists complete no more than 250 cases in a year, the office would need to have a staff of 12 full-time pathologists, he said. The office is currently funded for eight forensic pathologists, he said. 

West Virginia is not alone in regards to the shortage. The United States has a shortage of forensic pathologists, he said. 

Families need autopsy reports in order to obtain death certificates and close estates. Izzo said the state Office of the Registrar can issue pending death certificates, but not all insurance companies accept them, he said. 

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Lori Kersey
Lori Kersey

Lori Kersey is a reporter with a decade of experience reporting in West Virginia. She covers state government for West Virginia Watch.

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