The backlog of bodies waiting for autopsies at the Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has been cleared after two teams of federal experts worked for the past month to help alleviate staffing shortages and respond to an increasing number of deaths that require investigation.
Del. Kirill Reznik (D-Montgomery), who has been closely following problems within the Department of Health, said the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner confirmed that the overflow had been cleared when contacted by his office on Friday.
Inquiries made to the Department of Health, the Governor’s office and the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems were not immediately returned.
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has faced scrutiny since earlier this year, when weeks-long delays in completing autopsies began to come to light. Officials have pointed to COVID-19, the state’s rising homicide rate, the overdose epidemic and staffing shortages within the office as the source of the backlog.
The autopsy overflow caused such significant problems that the state leased a portion of the Metro West parking garage in Baltimore to use as a makeshift morgue.
Former Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Victor Weedn made a request in early February to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assistance from its Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams for support. He projected that the backlog would surpass 300 bodies by mid-February.
Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams are typically deployed after natural disasters, terrorist attacks and transportation accidents.
Suzanne Sellman of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in an email Friday evening that four response team members worked at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for one week, starting Feb. 14.
A second four-person team of fatality management experts arrived Feb. 25.
“Like the first team, the second team worked daily under the direction of the OCME to conduct autopsies and perform related documentation,” she wrote.
Those experts completed their mission Thursday.
On Friday, the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee approved budget language that would require the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to submit a report detailing a timeline and description of all assistance received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, including the number of autopsies performed by FEMA personnel.
The Senate budget committee is also seeking a report on the state’s efforts to fill the vacant chief medical examiner position, as well as other open jobs in the office.
On. Feb. 18, Weedn resigned during an early morning meeting of the Postmortem Examiners Commission. Dr. Pamela E. Southall, a deputy medical examiner under Weedn, was appointed interim chief medical examiner in his stead.
Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report.