- Associated Press - Sunday, May 25, 2014

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Gov. Pat McCrory and several lawmakers are promising to review how deaths are investigated in North Carolina and whether the state’s medical examiner system needs additional money.

The proposals were prompted by a series in The Charlotte Observer (https://bit.ly/RL52QY ). The newspaper found medical examiners fail to examine bodies in one out of every nine cases, despite a state law requiring them to do so.

The series also found medical examiners in the state only visit crime scenes about 10 percent of the time. National experts say seeing where the death happened is often key to a proper investigation.

The newspaper also learned that families can wait for months for rulings on the final cause of death, which can delay insurance payments.

North Carolina Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Deborah Radisch blamed the problems on a lack of money, and after reviewing the series, McCrory decided to ask lawmakers to give $2 million for improvements, double what he initially asked for. The governor also wants to increase the fee paid to medical examiners from $100 per death investigation to $250.

“We’re pleased with our first steps, but we also recognize there’s more to go,” McCrory said. “I also do think we need to do a total long-term policy review.”

A 2007 national survey found the average state medical examiner agency spends $1.76 per capita. But North Carolina spent only 84 cents per capita on its system in 2013.

The additional state money would go to training, running regional autopsy centers and supplies. Any increase in the fees paid to medical examiners would have to come from county governments.

State Rep. Justin Burr said lawmakers need make sure if they increase the medical examiner fees, they require them to examine bodies as ordered in state law.

“I don’t understand why we’re paying someone if they don’t perform their duties,” said Burr, R-Stanley, who also is oversees the House appropriations committee and the joint legislative oversight committee on Health and Human Services.

State Sen. Tommy Tucker is also on that oversight committee and said lawmakers must make the medical examiner system better.

“North Carolina should do a better job for the families of deceased citizens,” said Tucker R-Union. “Somebody needs to be held accountable for the erroneous information being put out to the families.”


Information from: The Charlotte Observer, https://www.charlotteobserver.com

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