Maricopa County medical examiner’s office receives full accreditation

The premier professional organization for medical examiners is giving its highest endorsement to the Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner.

The Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner’s Forensic Science Center is at
701 W. Jefferson St. in Phoenix. (Submitted photo)

It has received full accreditation from the National Association of Medical Examiners for the first time ever, according to a release.

“This is a huge achievement for the Office of the Medical Examiner and an important signal to the public,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Steve Chucri, District 2, said in the release.

“It means we are adhering to the highest standards possible as we fulfill this vital public function. My colleagues and I are committed to providing the support necessary for OME to maintain full accreditation.”

NAME requires compliance with at least 339 standards related to facilities, processes, staffing and work product in order to grant full accreditation. It is a goal OME has been working toward for five years, according to the release.

“A fully accredited Medical Examiner’s Office should give the public confidence that we have the necessary resources and workflows to perform consistently excellent work,” Dr. Jeffrey Johnston, Maricopa County’s chief medical examiner, said in the release.

“I’m so proud of our team for their persistence and their willingness to adapt to change and I’m grateful to county leadership for making OME a priority.”

Just a year ago, the Office of the Medical Examiner was facing a backlog of case reports caused by a shortage of medical examiners and the increased demand from the opioid epidemic. At the time, the county had only 11 forensic pathologists, according to the release.

To address the staffing shortage, Maricopa County implemented a loan repayment incentive for medical examiners in late 2017.  Under the program, qualifying medical examiners receive up to $25,000 in loan repayment assistance annually, with a lifetime cap of $100,000.

Maricopa County is the first and only county to have such an incentive, according to the release.

In the months since, the Office of the Medical Examiner has been able to better compete for a limited pool of medical examiners.  The office now has a full staff of forensic pathologists and completes 90 percent of investigations within three months, which is one of the standards required for full accreditation.

“This is an important step in our continued effort to attract the best forensic pathologists in the country to conduct professional, compassionate investigations that help solve crimes, spot trends, and provide answers to those grieving the loss of a loved one,” Dr. Johnston said in the release.

“Under Arizona law, the Office of the Medical Examiner must perform medical investigations of certain types of deaths in our community,” according to the release.

“The goal of these investigations is to determine the medical cause of the death in order to protect public health and safety.  OME investigations inform families,  Approximately 10,000 deaths in Maricopa County are reported to OME each year,” according to the release.

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