The Maryland Department of Health and Post Mortem Examiners Commission are extremely proud of the state’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME). Every day, a team of dedicated, highly skilled staff perform critical public health and scientific functions, identifying trends in injuries, poisonings, overdoses, infectious diseases and other fatal conditions that may put Marylanders at risk (“Maryland medical examiner’s resignation underscores resource limitations amid opioid crisis,” Dec. 10).
The OCME investigates deaths from injury, homicide, suicide, unusual or suspicious circumstances, or when an individual is not attended by a physician at the time of death. This agency also assists with criminal investigations when a death is determined to be a homicide. The OCME is a model for the nation, offering the only forensic medicine education program in the mid-Atlantic region. Medical examiners from across the country are trained here through its comprehensive curricula. Maryland is fortunate to have one of the nation’s leading medicolegal institutions, not only for its investigative, public health and educational roles, but also for seeking justice for the deceased and assisting loved ones throughout the process.
The work, however, is not without its challenges. In recent years, caseloads have increased, largely due to the opioid epidemic. Last year, the office received over 15,000 death referrals and performed more than 5,700 autopsies. The Hogan administration and health department are acutely aware of this circumstance and have responded by directing considerable resources to the OCME, including salary increases averaging 16% for medical examiners in 2016 and hiring a dedicated recruiter to secure nine new board-certified per diem medical examiners.
In addition, five full-time positions were reallocated to OCME in 2017 — two medical examiners, a toxicologist, an autopsy assistant and a forensic investigator. The Office of Preparedness and Response provided funding for testing equipment, storage components and electrical work, in addition to mass fatality supply donations. In the coming weeks, we will move ahead with new leadership, as Chief Medical Examiner David R. Fowler announced his retirement at the end of the month. The Post Mortem Examiners Commission has appointed Deputy Medical Examiner Pamela E. Southall to serve as acting chief medical examiner while it conducts a nationwide search to find a permanent replacement.
We thank Dr. Fowler for 17 years of dedicated service to Maryland. We are confident Maryland’s state-of-the-art facility, top-notch staff and exemplary training programs will attract top candidates from across the country. We look forward to continuing OCME’s legacy of service and excellence in the future.
Robert R. Neall, Baltimore
The writer is secretary of the Maryland Department of Health.
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