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Amid Worsening Conditions, Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Victor Weedn Resigns Effective Immediately

Maryland’s Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Victor Weedn addressed members of the Postmortem Examiners Commission about an autopsy backlog in his office on Feb. 4. On Friday, Weedn resigned as head of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Photo by Hannah Gaskill.

Maryland Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Victor Weedn resigned from his role leading the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner on Friday morning.

His resignation went into effect immediately following a closed session meeting of the Postmortem Examiners Commission on Friday morning.

Dr. Pamela E. Southall, a deputy medical examiner, will step in as Maryland’s interim chief medical examiner.

According to a news release, she will oversee a 100-person staff and review the Department of Health’s efforts to recruit employees to her office.

Weedn’s resignation, sent via email, consisted of just two sentences:

“I am resigning my position as Chief Medical Examiner as of today. Thank you for your support throughout my tenure. Good luck, Victor W. Weedn, MD, JD.”

Weedn’s departure comes as the agency continues to struggle with an autopsy backlog that had surpassed 217, as of Feb. 4.

For weeks, bodies waiting to be autopsied have been stored at the Metro West Garage in Baltimore, a little less than a mile from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

FEMA to Deploy an Expert to Help with Autopsy Backlog, Health Department Facing Funding Restriction

A news release confirmed that the Department of Health and the Postmortem Examiners Commission has secured funding to increase the office’s in-house cold storage capacity.

Last week, Dr. Jinlene Chan confirmed that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was sending help from its Disaster Mortuary Operation Response Team — a unit that typically responds after natural disasters, terrorist attacks, transportation accidents and pandemics.

Weedn joined the office as Maryland’s Chief Medical Examiner in 2021. His resignation adds to the crippling staffing shortage at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, which has been leaning heavily on per diem contract workers to fill the gaps.

The Department of Health and the governor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday afternoon.

Del. Kirill Reznik (D-Montgomery), who has been vocal about the staffing shortage at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, said that the Department of Health is responsible for Weedn’s resignation and the growing staffing shortage.

“That office is already understaffed. One more lost person … is probably not going to help the situation,” he said in a phone interview Friday afternoon.

Budget analysts from the Department of Legislative Services have briefed lawmakers on how dire the staffing levels at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner have become.

According to a budget analysis, there were approximately two vacant medical examiner positions in December 2019. The number of unfilled positions rose to six by December 2020.

There were five vacancies for full-time medical examiners in December 2021.

Weedn was the one employee that was hired between 2020 and 2021.

The Department of Legislative Service anticipates that three more medical examiners are expected to retire within the next year.

The office is also experiencing a staffing crisis beyond full-time medical examiners as positions for forensic pathologists and forensic investigators unfilled, as well.

In addition to the existing vacancies, the Department of Health recently opened 21 new positions at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, including assistant medical examiners, forensic investigators, assistant toxicologists and autopsy assistants.

Patrick Moran, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 3, said the announcement of Weedn’s departure was “not surprising” and was “a long time coming.”

“But this isn’t the result of one individual. This is the result of an administration. And that goes all the way up to the governor and to the head of [the health department], who have known about this problem for years,” Moran said.

He suggested that Weedn was forced out of his position as details of conditions at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner have come out over the past few weeks and lawmakers have delved more deeply into widespread staffing shortages across government.

“This is their scapegoat,” Moran said.

The union leader said the crushing backlog at the examiner’s office has been “demoralizing to the families that require this service” and to the remaining employees, who will now work with one less examiner on the job.

“I’m sure it’s going to harm morale and make it worse … but how much lower can it get given the circumstances?” Moran asked.

Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report.