New medical examiner works to close 427 incomplete reports

KAMC News

The new medical examiner took over on October 1. Just two weeks into his job, he’s identified 427 backlogged cases. Some of those cases date back several years, and he said they are missing the final reports and signatures to officially close the reports. 

Dr. Sam Andrews, chief medical examiner, said he started by auditing all open cases and found these unfinished reports. He said all 427 cases have either final death certificates or pending death certificates, but they are missing the final reports.

Those pending death certificates can create problems in some cases, mostly when it comes to family members trying to claim Social Security, cash bank statements or even life insurance polices. However, some families may have gone unaffected because pending death certificates can sometimes allow you to access these. 

Now, Andrews said he and a team contracted from California are working to finish the paperwork for all 427 cases. 

“We have to look at these cases and do a review. I’m not going to just sign off on them,” Andrews said. “I apologize that there is delay. But, I also have to make sure that I’m signing a death certificate and an autopsy that it’s accurate and and of high quality.”

Andrews said the M.E.’s office gets about 40 to 50 new cases a month, and on average, cases take about three months to close. On any given day there is an expected 150-case backlog.

But when he saw there were 427 cases, Andrews said he was stunned. 

“The additional on top of that is…unusual,” he said. 

When asked how the backlog could get this bad, both Andrews and County Commissioner Bill McKay couldn’t quite pinpoint what went wrong. 

“I can’t answer that question,” said Andrews. “I don’t know the procedures in this office before my appointment here, so I don’t know.”

McKay said Dr. Sridhar Natarajan, former chief medical examiner, was excellent as his job. 

“He did a great job, he did an incredible job testifying,” McKay said. “I can’t speak to why he wasn’t taking care, why we have this backlog, but we can speak to his great job in court.”

Andrews said his team identified 30 cases they’re calling top priority to complete in the next month. Another 122 cases should be finished in the next three to four months. 

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