Medical examiners' offices across the country are facing a shortage of forensic pathologists, the key medical investigators who perform autopsies.
The Monroe County medical examiner's office is no exception. Like other agencies across the country, it's been dealing with an increase in autopsy cases due to the opioid epidemic and related overdose deaths, the county says. The autopsies are also taking longer to complete because of the time required for complex toxicology tests.
Until recently, the county medical examiner's office has been down two pathologists. One of the vacancies has been filled, and officials have a candidate lined up to fill the other spot; that person will start in July 2018.
These struggles are why county and University of Rochester officials are settling the details of a new program, in which UR doctoral residents will be able to conduct their fellowship at the Monroe County medical examiner's office. The program, which will begin in 2019, will help meet the need for forensic pathologists locally and nationally, officials say. It'll be the only one of its kind in New York outside of New York City.
Senator Chuck Schumer says he's pushing for the Department of Justice to support and provide funding for the program, which would help reduce overdose case backlogs in Upstate New York. He's also asking the Department of Health and Human Services to include forensic pathology among some other specialties that qualify for loan forgiveness through the National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program.
The US Department of Justice's National Commission on Forensic Science released a report on forensic pathologist need in 2015. It found that there are an estimated 500 forensic pathologists working full time in the US, and that the workload actually requires between 1,100 and 1,200 of the specialists.