BALTIMORE (WJZ) — More than 200 bodies are awaiting autopsies at the Office of the State Medical Examiner, state health officials told lawmakers Wednesday.

Legislative analysts testified Wednesday to the Maryland House Health and Social Services Subcommittee medical examiners’ caseloads stretched beyond National Association of Medical Examiners accreditation limits.

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A Howard County woman whose daughter died last month told WJZ — under the condition we conceal her identity — it took 11 days for an autopsy to be performed on her daughter. It took multiple calls to elected officials to expedite the process, she said.

“I’m outraged that they would be keeping bodies anywhere other than the coroner’s office. I have no idea where she was kept. I didn’t know. I still don’t know. And, I don’t want to know,” she said. “I don’t feel a backlog of that number is acceptable in a coroner’s office.”

“Medical examiners, on average, have had to perform 65 more autopsies than the standard 325,” Anne Wagner from the Maryland Department of Legislative Services said.

Increases in overdose deaths and homicides were a contributing factor to the caseload increases, Wagner said. There was also a 17 percent decrease in full-time equivalent medical examiners in FY 2021.

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“The national picture for forensic pathologists shows a critical shortage,” Dr. Jinlene Chan, the Deputy Secretary of Public Health Services, told the subcommittee Wednesday.

Dr. Chan said Maryland offers among the most competitive salary range for medical examiners in the country. Public health officials say the salary range for an Assistant Medical Examiner in Maryland is $238,842 – $370,086.

Legislative Services presented a pair of “Phase II” violations that could threaten the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner’s accreditation.

The first, a major roof leak caught during a 2019 inspection, which is still being fixed. The second violation was the staffing shortage stretching medical examiners past accreditation limits. DLS recommended two courses of action: restricting funds until MDH submits reports on accreditation status and hiring and a report from MDH on efforts to increase recruitment of forensic pathologists.

In a statement to WJZ Wednesday, MDH officials said bodies are being “sheltered according to Maryland law and in a manner that maintains their dignity.”

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“They need to make right by the citizens of Maryland. As I don’t find this acceptable to any family going through this grieving process,” the Howard County mother told WJZ.

Paul Gessler