- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 23, 2003

The District’s chief medical examiner is expected to resign his post in the coming days after an inspector general’s report released yesterday accused him of gross mismanagement in his handling of the city’s morgue.

The inspector general’s report on Dr. Jonathan Arden comes three months after investigators with the city’s Office of Corporation Counsel sustained charges of sexual harassment against Dr. Arden. The office’s five medical examiners, all women, have made claims of sexual harassment, sexual discrimination and unlawful retaliation.

Investigators with the Corporation Counsel’s Office also found evidence of racial discrimination in the training of black students and residents.

Tony Bullock, a spokesman for Mayor Anthony A. Williams, acknowledged that Dr. Arden had been placed on administrative leave Monday by acting City Administrator Herb Tillery, but he said Mr. Williams had no comment on the inspector general’s report.

“The mayor isn’t, I don’t believe, going to be talking too much about it,” Mr. Bullock said.

The inspector general’s findings were first reported in yesterday’s editions of The Washington Post, which quoted Dr. Arden saying he didn’t think he was going to be the chief medical examiner much longer.

Dr. Arden could not be reached for comment yesterday, and a call to the medical examiner’s office was not returned.

D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson said she first asked Mr. Williams to replace Dr. Arden in mid-June. Mrs. Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which oversees the medical examiner’s office, plans to hold a public oversight hearing tomorrow on Dr. Arden’s performance. Dr. Arden is not expected to attend the hearing.

“The problems are obviously many, and they’re significant,” Mrs. Patterson said yesterday. “The hearing gives us a chance to hear what the Williams administration plans to do to address these problems.” Mrs. Patterson said she expected “new leadership” would be a significant step in correcting many of the problems.

Dr. Arden is a graduate of the University of Michigan Medical School and formerly a first deputy chief medical examiner in New York City. D.C. officials hired Dr. Arden in April 1998 to reform the city’s dysfunctional morgue and coroner’s office.

The office’s budget has grown from $3.3 million in 1998 to $6 million in 2003. But Dr. Arden has been faulted for high employee turnover and other staffing problems and his failure to promulgate written policies and procedures for basic functions of the office. In June the city’s risk-management office found unhealthy working conditions in the office’s histology lab, where specimen slides are processed, and shut down the lab.

Dr. Arden leads 46 full-time employees, though the medical examiner’s office is budgeted to employ 76. Among the vacant positions is the deputy chief medical examiner, whose position has been unfilled for 18 months.

The medical examiner’s office has a caseload of about 1,450 autopsies a year in a city with 572,000 residents. Dr. Arden, who earns $165,000 annually and was seeking a pay raise in June, is paid comparably to the Maryland state medical examiner, who has statewide jurisdiction and a workload nearly three times the size.

But the D.C. medical examiner’s office has a backlog of about 1,300 unfinished autopsy reports, some of them dating back as far as 1999. The unfinished work includes about 700 death certificates lacking a final determination of death, according to a May 2003 oversight report by the Judiciary Committee.

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