DHHS requests more money to fix medical examiner system

Posted September 29, 2014
Updated September 30, 2014

— State health officials told lawmakers Monday that they need about $6 million more a year to fix the medical examiner system, which has failed to meet minimum national standards for staffing, training and facilities.

Lou Turner, deputy section chief for the state Department of Health and Human Services, told lawmakers that the agency has been asking for more money and staff for a decade but lawmakers haven't listened.

"It did not get funded. It did not go forward," Turner said.

Monday's review panel was sparked by a series that ran earlier this year in The Charlotte Observer, which found problems with the state's medical examiner and autopsy system.

In addition to the extra $6 million per year, DHHS officials told lawmakers they need tens of millions of dollars in the next few years for larger morgues and labs and more staff to keep up with growing caseloads. Out of about 78,000 deaths a year in North Carolina, about 14 percent are looked into by a medical examiner. About 5 percent undergo autopsies. 

North Carolina is not accredited by the National Association of Medical Examiners. To win accreditation, the state would need more forensic pathologists, a comprehensive IT system to replace the current paper reports, upgrades to its three regional labs and a training program, DHHS officials said. 

Lawmakers say that's a hefty order. Sen. Tommy Tucker, R-Union, said the state is not in a cash situation to add a great deal of recurring expense.

"We’re going to hold you accountable to ask for what you need. You may not get it, but at least you will have asked," Tucker said. "You will have covered the responsibility that your charged with to make this structure work."

DHHS officials say the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has been losing money to budget cuts, and that's affecting its ability to function. The state spends less per capita on its system than any comparable state, and it pays less for outside help, too, they said. For example, an autopsy costs $2,813, but the state only pays hospitals $1,650.

State lawmakers gave the office $1 million extra in this year's budget. They plan to meet again next month to come up with recommendations for next year.

"Going through the last budget session, it was a challenge then, and it'll be a challenge to find this, but I think it's necessary funding we've got to find," said Rep. Mark Hollo, R-Alexander.


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  • Teresa Engel Oct 2, 2014
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    View quoted thread

    As the right likes to say, "This is the NCGA's and the governor's problem now. You can't blame the past administrations for anything." What they mean is, "Yep GWB DID make the mess the economy's in, and put us into two unfunded wars. But, you can't blame the previous administration for the mess. It's Obama's problem now." It's OK to blame past administrations for the current administration's failure to fix the problem, when the current administration is Republican? But not when it's the other way around? Hmmmmm.

  • patracles221 Oct 1, 2014

    so the gop led GA cut everything to the bone to give their corporate and wealthy donors a tax cut and now things like education and the coroners office can't do their work cause of inadequate funding, just like every other function of state gov't.
    why am I not surprised.

  • Pensive01 Sep 30, 2014

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    Since this current bunch in the legislature seems to not be willing to act then placing blame at their door is entirely appropriate. I'll just add that previous legislatures had both democrats and republicans, in fact the republicans had majority control of the House back in the 90's, there has never been any impediment that prevented anyone in the minority party from writing their own legislation and attempting to get it passed.

  • Terry Lightfoot Sep 30, 2014
    user avatar

    CCSMITH1902 - right on , agree 100%
    The least that NC can do is provide resourses for those that have died and the family needs answers, or there is an investigation that needs answers. The quote from Tommy Tucker is typical backwoods Union county response...ahh shucks, we don't have enough money to fund that. FIND the money dips&&&&&+ and eliminate money going to your cooked up schemes of voter suppression , trottle medical clinics with new regulations, pass laws for guns on parks and bars ( let's mix alcohol and guns)...

  • sinenomine Sep 30, 2014

    "Blame the GOP" seems to be the mantra of CCSMITH1902. Do you really think the current situation with the medical examiner's system just arose? How many years were the Democrats in office during which they ignored the problem you so blithely blame on Republicans?

  • Carol Smith Sep 30, 2014
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    Our "lawmakers" have been too busy passing voter supression laws, driving away experienced teachers, and ruining our environment to acknowledge the needs of the Examiners Office.

  • sinenomine Sep 30, 2014

    With the exception of the ME's office, recently relocated from Chapel Hill to Raleigh, North Carolina doesn't have a statewide system of medical examiners worthy of the name. There are some good people who try to act conscientiously, of course, but a large number are overpaid hacks.

    The present system is an embarrassing scandal. It needs to be addressed. And don't try the business about it all being the fault of the Republicans - the present system is decades older than the current Republican junta and was put in place during the decades during which Democrats ran the state like a private fiefdom. There is plenty of blame for people on both sides of the aisle.

  • miseem Sep 30, 2014

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    This coming from the person advocating for a stop light at the Wake Forest intersection, the site of a fatal accident yesterday, because they had a near miss. As I said then, be more careful. I don't use that road and don't want my taxes spent because of your carelessness. And of course, we all know that the Medical Examiners office has nothing to do with the legal system and never testifies in court. And any barely competent defense attorney would never use lack of resources in the ME office as a defense, claiming incompetent work by the ME. So why don't we just abolish this office and save more money?
    Or we could hold the NCGA accountable, like Sen. Tommy Tucker wants to hold the ME office "We’re gonna hold you accountable to ask for what you need. You may not get it, but at least you will have asked,". Of course, he would mean the NCGA will consider it for about one minute, then forget about it and approve more tax cuts.

  • Carl Keehn Sep 30, 2014
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    Over the past decade, both Democrats AND Republicans have ruled things. There is enough blame for both to share. Rather than blaming, try fixing.

  • Maurice Pentico Jr. Sep 30, 2014
    user avatar

    So they (ME) have been asking for the money over a DECADE... you know... when Democrats ruled things. And being "accredited" for examining dead people is not such highly esteemed goal for the scant resources we have... unless of course YOU are willing to pony up some more tax dollars? Or do you just expect "someone else" to pay? LOL! Far easier to demand someone else give up their money isnt it.