The West Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has faced issues with an increasing caseload and staff shortages, the administrative director told legislators in Monday’s Joint Standing Committee on the Judiciary.
Matthew Izzo, administrative director of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, said the office is budgeted for six people, including the position of the chief medical examiner, Izzo said. There are currently two vacancies. Izzo said based on West Virginia’s caseload and national certification standards, the office should have 10 people.
Since the beginning of this year, the office has had 7,100 cases. Out of those, 2,150 are autopsies. The caseload has steadily increased through the years. Izzo said this year marks a 14 percent increase from the previous year and a 30 percent increase from the year before.
Izzo said certification standards recommend that one forensic pathologist should not complete more than 250 autopsies for year. But Izzo says the office “far exceeds that.” The chief medical examiner did 415 autopsies last year, Izzo said, and is on pace to complete more than that this year.
The forensic pathologist who had the lowest number still had more than the recommended amount, performing between 380-390 autopsies. And that was with taking five months of maternity leave, Izzo said. Izzo estimated all pathologists will perform more than double the accreditation standards by the end of the year.
One issue he sees is that West Virginia needs to position itself to recruit more forensic pathologist. This year, 27 have graduated from fellowships throughout the country, he said. Those 27 graduates attended fellowships from a few dozen programs in the country, Izzo said. He listed programs in New Mexico, Ohio, and Maryland. He said there are fellowship seats that go unfilled and there are people who complete the program who do not end up practicing forensic pathology.
West Virginia State Police 1st Sgt. Scott Pettry and Parkersburg Chief of Police Joseph Martin, also addressed the committee Monday, discussing protocols for responding to missing persons reports.
Pettry delved into the state’s statistics. This year, the West Virginia State Police reported 68 missing persons. There are 211 reported missing for more than a year.
Pettry explained the State Police follow national procedures for entering missing persons on the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. In that database, there are six categories: Disability, endangered, involuntary, juvenile, catastrophe, and other.
As of Oct. 31, there are 36 that fall into the disability category, 40 in endangered, 16 in involuntary, 193 juvenile cases, two missing under the catastrophe category and 94 other cases.
The oldest case in the system goes back to 1979—a case out of Gauley Bridge.
Pettry talked about the NamUs database, which is a repository system on missing persons and unclaimed deceased. The database is searchable by anyone but sensitive data is only available to the coroner’s office and law enforcement.
“This is an avenue that allows families to enter key information into the system that law enforcement has access to along with the general public,” Pettry said.
Pettry said he wants to introduce NamUs to law enforcement, dispatchers, and all cadet classes. He said he wants to teach them how to use the system along with the benefits of using it.