FARMINGTON – The state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner received word this week that the agency will be “provisionally” accredited by a national association for another 12 months in part because of the increased workload generated by escalating opioid deaths.
If two more medical examiners are not hired in the next year to reduce the number of autopsies done annually by each staff member, the accreditation by the National Association of Medical Examiners could be revoked, said Dr. James Gill, the state’s Chief Medical Examiner.
The agency has been under “provisional” accreditation status since January when an inspection done by NAME revealed deficiencies including not enough cooler space for bodies and the number of autopsies done per year, per staff member.
“NAME recognized that the OCME had ‘made progress’ in fixing some of the major deficiencies,” Gill said in an email. But, “they noted that the OCME is still ‘critically understaffed on the professional level” and increasing opioid deaths have attributed to staffing issues in several states including Connecticut, Gill said.
Gill projected in late August that the number of accidental fatal drug overdoses by year’s end will likely hit 1,078 – an 18 percent jump over the number of fatal overdoses in 2016 when 917 people died. As the use of heroin and fentanyl, a drug more powerful than heroin, has increased, the number of accidental fatal overdoses has steadily risen since 2012 when 357 people died.
The increase in fatal overdoses has hit every area of the state. Thirty-six New Britain residents died of drug overdoses in 2016. In the first six months of 2017, 25 have died, according to Gill’s data. The number is projected to rise to 50 by year’s end, according to Gill’s formula.
New Britain ranked fourth in the state last year for the number of residents dying from a drug overdose. The six-month figures show the city behind only Hartford in the number of overdose deaths this year. The town of Newington is also looking at a big jump in the number of fatal overdoses by year’s end, based on the first six months of 2017. In 2016, three Newington residents died from accidental drug overdoses. By June 30 of this year, 10 had already died.
Bristol, which was running neck and neck with New Britain in 2016, has seen a decrease in the past six months, from 35 in 2016 to 11 in the first six months of 2017.
As the number of drug deaths has increased, the number of autopsies in the state has risen to 388 per year per OCME staff member. The number of autopsies done annually per staff member is making the office “critically understaffed,” said Barbara Wolf, NAME accreditation committee chair in a letter Gill dated Tuesday. Wolf explained the provisional accreditation status in the letter and warmed that if two more medical staff aren’t hired in the next year, the association would pull accreditation for at least six months.
She also acknowledge that the agency had doubled its cooler space to store bodies and the medical records staff, which makes sure reports are released, has been increased. Wolf also commended Gill for continuing to complete cases and finalize autopsy reports and death certificates in “a timely fashion in spite of dramatic increase in workload.”
With the state budget still influx, Gill said he will need an increase in personnel services to hire two more medical staff members to bring the number of autopsies per examiner down to 325 per pathologist to maintain national accreditation.
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or Lbackus@centralctcommunications.com.