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Chief of beleaguered state medical examiners office in Baltimore resigns

Dr. Victor W. Weedn resigned Friday as chief of the medical examiners’ office for Maryland after a tumultuous year of staff departures and a backlog of autopsies at least 200 deep.

In an email to the Baltimore office’s staff Friday afternoon, he wrote: “I am resigning my position as Chief Medical Examiner as of today. Thank you for your support throughout my tenure. Good luck.”

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A state commission that oversees the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner met early Friday morning and immediately went into closed session.

The Maryland Post Mortem Examiners Commission announced Friday afternoon that Dr. Pamela E. Southall, a deputy medical examiner, will serve as Maryland’s new interim chief medical examiner. The announcement did not say Weedn resigned but thanked him for “his service to the state” and wished him “the best in his future endeavors.”

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Weedn’s resignation email was confirmed by Bruce Goldfarb, a spokesman for the medical examiner’s office.

Weedn took over the post about a year ago, replacing the long-serving chief Dr. David Fowler, who retired at the end of 2019 in part because of the lack of resources to handle the overloaded autopsy schedule for examiners. Southall served as interim chief for a little more than a year between their tenures.

Matters only became worse for the office that investigates suspicious and unattended deaths. It was deluged with cases largely from opioid overdoses but also homicides. The coronavirus pandemic exacerbated those problems.

Lawmakers and union officials have drawn attention to understaffing in the office in recent years and the Maryland Department of Health has redirected positions and funds for salaries. But the office has lost a number of examiners, and a national shortage of forensic pathologists — and conditions in the Baltimore office — has made it difficult to hire new examiners.

The examiners website lists 15 examiners, down from 20 listed in state documents in December. But there appear to be even fewer full-time examiners now, with the exodus accelerating in the past year.

Lawmakers and union representatives have derided the office for allowing hundreds of bodies to pile up.

The National Association of Medical Examiners, which sets a standard of 250 autopsies a year per examiners, had for years given the office provisional accreditation needed to ensure trust in autopsy findings by families and law enforcement. Full accreditation was restored during the pandemic as the association loosened the threshold.

Reports per examiner in the West Baltimore office have reached 390 autopsies in the state’s 2021 fiscal year, and at times individuals have performed far more.

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The examiners’ office has turned to contractors made up of out-of-state pathologists and retirees from the office, listing payment of $850 per autopsy in state documents. Per diem examiners don’t tend to perform high-profile autopsies.

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Del. Kirill Reznik has been following the staff shortages and introduced legislation to require the examiners’ office to staff appropriately. The Montgomery County Democrat said that he didn’t know the circumstances of Weedn’s resignation, but said it only compounds the issues the department faces.

“It not only puts the department one more person down, but one highly experienced person,” he said. “I can’t see them trying to fill 21 new positions, which they’ve opened up in addition to now filling the chief role. It’s a very difficult prospect. I hope they find a way to resolve it soon.”

Weedn was chosen for the top position after a national search, the commission reported last year. He had served as an assistant medical examiner in Maryland from 2009 to 2012.

“Dr. Weedn is an experienced and well-regarded forensic pathologist who is more than capable to serve as Maryland’s chief medical examiner,” said Dennis R. Schrader, state health secretary and a commission member, in a statement at the time of the appointment. “I’m confident he’ll excel in the role and advance one of the nation’s leading medicolegal institutions.”

Weedn is a forensic pathologist and attorney and had served as a professor in George Washington University’s Department of Forensic Sciences, including as department chair from 2012 to 2018.

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He also has served as a crime laboratory director and flight surgeon with the Air National Guard. He is a former president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and has been a board member for the National Association of Medical Examiners. Weedn’s medical degree is from the University of Texas Health Science Center in Dallas, and his law degree is from the South Texas College of Law in Houston.

The state’s Post Mortem Examiners Commission is made up of doctors from the University of Maryland Medical Center and Johns Hopkins Hospital, top health officials from the state and city health office, and state police.


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