As the opioid crisis has taken shape in Monroe County in recent years, the Medical Examiner’s Office has had its hands full, but there’s not enough staff there to complete cases as efficiently as they need to.
In 2015, Monroe County Medical Examiner Dr. Nadia Granger’s office saw 81 cases of opioid overdose-related deaths. In 2016, Granger said she oversaw 128 similar cases, with more than 25 are still pending.
She anticipates those numbers could increase based on the number of cases she’s seen in 2017 so far, though the average time to complete an overdose case, she said, is now a minimum of five months.
That timeline depends on an initial exam, microscopy, and toxicology reports, but Granger said new additives in heroin have only added to the problem.
“We’re dealing with a much larger range. A much longer list, and all of those substances need to be identified, they need to be confirmed. They need to be quantified. All of that takes time,” said Granger on Thursday.
The Monroe County Medical Examiner’s office is admittedly short-staffed, but they’re not alone.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said there’s only an estimated 500 forensic pathologists across all 50 states in the U.S., but that figure is about 700 short of the demand nationwide. There’s not enough licensed professionals to fill much-needed spots.
Schumer and Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo (R) announced a new fellowship program between the Medical Examiner’s Office and the University of Rochester to have doctoral students begin a one-year fellowship under Dr. Granger starting in 2019.
Schumer’s asking the Department of Justice for federal funding to help establish the program, so more doctors can get involved.
“Not only will the residents get on the job training and real world experience as an employee, but that means there’s a steady stream of qualified pathologists,” said Schumer.
Dinolfo added, “we’re going to have a continuous (hopefully) supply of medical examiners, not just for Monroe County, but to help solve this crisis throughout the country.”
Both Dinolfo and Schumer cited the shortage in the local office and the delays that ensue are also holding up certain criminal cases.
The hope is this new program, along with new hires, will help solve that. Dinolfo said the county just hired a new staffer in the Medical Examiner’s Office that will start in the coming weeks, and another will be hired next year.
Right now the county contracts with doctors from outside the community to help with the caseload. Dinolfo said that practice is common among other counties, and is one that Monroe County hopes to be able to minimize with more hires.
The Medical Examiner’s Office will be assisted by one doctoral student for a year-long fellowship starting in 2019.