West Virginia Faces Autopsy Shortages and Delays


Summary: Forensic pathologists in West Virginia are overwhelmed with a high number of autopsies, resulting in significant delays in autopsy reports. The state is currently facing a turnaround time of around 240 days, compared to the national standard of 60 to 90 days. The shortage of pathologists is a nationwide issue, making it difficult to recruit and hire more staff. As a result, the state’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is contracting with part-time physicians to help address the backlog.

According to the West Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, forensic pathologists in the state are being asked to perform twice as many autopsies as the national best practice standard, leading to significant delays in autopsy reports. Currently, it takes about 240 days for autopsy reports to be completed, compared to the recommended 60 to 90 days set by the National Association of Medical Examiners.

The shortage of pathologists is a major challenge for the state, as well as for the entire United States. With a staff of only six full-time pathologists, the West Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is expected to conduct a total of 3,600 to 3,800 autopsies this year, far exceeding the recommended limit of 250 autopsies per pathologist per year. Performing more than 325 autopsies per year puts the office at risk of losing accreditation.

Recruiting and hiring more pathologists has proven to be a difficult task, and in the meantime, the office has been relying on part-time physicians to help alleviate the backlog. However, the demand for autopsies remains high, as they are reserved for cases involving homicides, suicides, deaths of children, and those in correctional facilities, among other unexpected circumstances.

The delays in autopsy reports have had significant consequences for families and individuals. Without death certificates, families often face difficulties with insurance claims and settling their loved ones’ affairs. The backlog has put many individuals in challenging situations, struggling to pay bills and mortgages while waiting for autopsy reports.

The West Virginia Funeral Directors and Crematory Operators Association has also highlighted the impact of the delays on families. The executive director, Robert Kimes, shared a story of a woman facing eviction from her home while waiting for an autopsy report, emphasizing the financial hardships faced by families in these circumstances.

Tags: West Virginia, autopsy, shortages, delays, pathologists, medical examiner, forensic, backlog