DES MOINES, Iowa — The Iowa Medical Examiner’s Office is performing more autopsies with fewer staffers amid a cut in state funding, causing delays in bodies being returned to families and endangering the office’s national accreditation.
The office’s accreditation is up for reconsideration on Nov. 6, The Des Moines Register reported .
State reports show that in 2006, the office’s four pathologists completed almost 570 autopsies. In 2016, three pathologists completed almost 860 autopsies.
The National Association of Medical Examiners recommends that pathologists not perform more than 250 autopsies a year. Iowa pathologists exceeded that recommendation in 2015 and 2016. Association examiners may not re-accredit the office if examiners are taking too many cases.
“You have to set a line somewhere,” said Brian Peterson, president of the national association. He said performing too many autopsies can increase the chances for mistakes, errors, fatigue and burnout.
Peterson said offices don’t need accreditation to operate, but accreditation shows the office is meeting a certain standard.
The state office’s funding has decreased from $1.6 million in 2009 to just over $822,000 this year. The budget cut has caused the office to increase its autopsy fee. The state currently charges counties $1,400 per autopsy, an increase from the $1,000 fee charged in 2000.
Jon Thompson, assistant state medical examiner, asked the Legislature in July to increase the fee by $500 per autopsy. He said that would allow the office to hire another pathologist to help with the backlog of cases. The Legislature has supported the increase, which will be implemented July 2018.
Peterson says a national increase in drug overdose deaths has likely contributed to the growing demand for autopsies.
The state requires autopsies to be performed in seven types of deaths, including farm or work-related deaths, suspicious deaths, unexplained child deaths and deaths that are suspected to be drug related.
Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com