Utah families waiting months for death certificates, chief medical examiner discusses backlog

Posted at 7:01 PM, Jun 28, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-28 21:01:56-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Cases are piling up at the Utah Medical Examiner's Office, and some families have to wait months to get proper death certificates.

Some families have waited as much as three and a half months to get a report from the medical examiner’s office regarding the cause of death for their loved one.

“These are, you know, the regular folks who are being hurt, and they are people who don't have the political juice to be able to say, 'fix this,'” said Doctor Todd Grey, who is Utah’s Chief medical examiner.

The Utah Medical Examiner's Office is dealing with a major backlog, and they said they don't have enough employees to keep up with all of the cases.

“It just sort of piles up, and we keep digging as fast as we can, but the pile grows,” he said.

Grey said their caseload has grown over the past decade, not only because of a growing population but also due to the high rate of suicides and prescription drug overdoses occurring in Utah.

“The western states, and Utah included, have a higher suicide rate than is true nationally,” Grey said. “And, again, we're seeing on the order of 500 or more suicides a year."

The office only has three doctors, and Grey said generally his doctors are doing about 400 to 450 cases each year. He said national standards are no more than 250 cases a year.

Grey said if doctors are handling more than 325 cases each year, he considers that unacceptable and calls into question the credibility of the work.

“It's inevitable that things will slip and slide and you'll make mistakes,” he said. “I mean, we try very hard not to, but when it's everybody, is just, you know, running as fast as they can to stay in place, something is going to slip."

Finding more qualified forensic pathologists isn't easy, as it's estimated there are only 500 doctors in the country with the training and qualifications necessary.

“Convincing a good forensic pathologist to come to work in an office where they're going to be over worked by national standards? It makes it even harder,” Grey said.

Grey said they simply need more funding from the state legislature to hire more people, but he said it's a tough process. He said there are a lot of people the request needs to go through before it reaches the legislature, and if the request gets dropped at any point, they have to start over.