- Associated Press - Sunday, January 24, 2016

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - The Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office has reduced a massive caseload backlog, an important step toward regaining the accreditation that it lost in 2009.

As recently as two years ago, more than 1,300 cases remained uncompleted, the Tulsa World reported Sunday (https://bit.ly/1nHvL0W ). Amy Elliott, chief administrative officer for the agency, said a combination of better funding, beefed-up staff and better equipment has allowed the state Medical Examiner’s Office to relieve that caseload bottleneck.

“There’s essentially no backlog,” said Elliott. She projected that the 645 pending cases will be processed by March, enabling the agency to reach a national benchmark.

Accreditation standards from the National Association of Medical Examiners recommend that post-mortem examination reports be completed within 90 days of autopsy.

“We’re working for a very healthy chief who leads by example,” Elliott said of Dr. Eric Pfeifer, the state’s chief medical examiner. “We probably have the best morale of any state agency there is, considering what we do, especially.

“Around the forensic community, word has gotten around how amazing it is to work here. Even in the terrible conditions, it is just the attitude, the leadership, the teamwork.”

A year after the office lost accreditation, a state audit cited it for overspending and mismanagement, and the chief medical examiner was terminated. Pfeifer was hired in March 2011 from Rochester, Minnesota, where he spent 14 years as a forensic pathologist with the Mayo Clinic. He inherited an agency lacking adequate facilities, equipment and personnel.

Increased state appropriations during Pfeifer’s tenure have allowed the office to hire six additional forensic pathologists and support staff, Elliott said. The agency also has added two machines that can produce full-body X-rays in 13 seconds, she said.

Regaining accreditation is the next big hurdle for the Medical Examiner’s Office.

In October, the Commissioners of the Land Office authorized purchase of the Oklahoma County Health Department building, which will be renovated and used as the ME’s Office’s new Oklahoma City headquarters.

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Information from: Tulsa World, https://www.tulsaworld.com

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