Two weeks ago, Chief Medical Examiner Dr. James Gill warned that his office could lose accreditation due to budget cuts and an increase in overdose deaths. On Thursday, Gill sent a letter to municipalities to tell them that any “unclaimed” dead person will now be their responsibility.
Gill said the bodies of unclaimed decedents will no longer be transported to the medical examiner’s office as a courtesy. Citing state statute, Gill said, “the proper authorities of the town in which the body is lying has the duty ‘to dispose’ of these remains.”
Gill suggested municipalities start working with their local police departments to “transport and store” the remains before his office starts implementing the policy on July 1.
“We estimate that this will involve fewer than 100 decedents per year for the entire state,” Gill wrote. “The Connecticut Funeral Directors Association may be able to provide you with a list of funeral homes willing to assist with transportation and storage.”
The office has a staff of 50, but Gill said an additional 11 vacancies that could not be filled because of a hiring freeze have compounded the office’s struggles. The office is due to be inspected for accreditation this summer.
The office performed 1,382 autopsies in 2012, 1,452 autopsies in 2013, and 1,723 autopsies in 2014, its online data records show. But they are up to 2,357 for fiscal year 2016. The growth is due largely to an increase in the number of overdose deaths.
In his testimony to the Appropriations Committee in March, Gill said the office doesn’t have enough staff to handle the estimated 58 percent increase in autopsies over the past two years. National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) recommended that Gill’s office hire two additional pathologists to ensure accreditation.
In order to avoid losing accreditation, NAME told the state that each pathologist, including Gill, would have to lower the number of autopsies performed per year to 325. The current projection, which requires Gill to perform a full caseload in addition to his administrative responsibilities, is around 381.
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, called the budget cuts that required Gill to take these steps “inhumane.”
“Democrats have cut the Chief Medical Examiner’s office to the point where they can no longer do their job and it will now be up to individual municipalities to process human remains,” Fasano said. “This is another burden on our towns that they are not equipped to handle. This is an issue of humanity, of public health, and of basic respect for the people of this state.”
A spokesman for the Senate Democrats did not respond to requests to comment.
Hamden Mayor Curt Leng told Fasano in an email that he shouldn’t be making it a partisan issue.
“With all due respect, because I know you and know your good intentions as a public servant, I ask that we work toward solutions instead of making this a Democrat v. Republican blame game session,” Leng wrote. “I would ask that Legislators work with the Governor and see what can be done because this particular situation does not seem even plausible for most small municipalities.”