The state medical examiner's office has doubled the number of pathologists on staff in the past year and is seeking money to hire at least three more, which is crucial to win back national accreditation, the chief medical examiner told a legislative panel Thursday.
Dr. Eric Pfeifer, the chief medical examiner, said the agency has 10 pathologists on staff and is hoping soon to have another on board.
The agency needs at least 14 pathologists to be considered for accreditation, he told members of the Senate budget subcommittee on public safety and judiciary. The agency in 2009 lost its accreditation with the National Association of Medical Examiners, which cited facility and staffing deficiencies.
Pfeifer, who was hired nearly two years ago, is seeking an additional $2.2 million to pay for three additional pathologists as well as the purchase of necessary equipment.
The agency received $7.2 million from legislators for this fiscal year, which ends June 30.
Its office in Tulsa needs to be upgraded and its Oklahoma City headquarters should be replaced, he said.
A special audit in 2010 said the medical examiner office's 30-year-old building lacked sufficient space for staff and agency operations.
A cooler broke down in the building last year, resulting in corpses having to be stored in refrigeration trucks.
Efforts to get a new office built have bogged down in the Legislature.
“We will not achieve accreditation in our building,” Pfeifer said. “We had the president of NAME visit us last year. She looked around and goes, ‘Not this place.'”
Pfeifer said he is thrilled that the agency has been able to attract doctors after several years of flux. Chief medical examiners came and went, the agency was at the center of a bribery investigation involving former legislators and a former chief investigator was charged and subsequently cleared of sexual misconduct charges.
He said he was surprised he was able to get pathologists to work for the medical examiner's office.
“Our first strategy was to look for doctors that had an Oklahoma connection via family so we kind of pursued those,” Pfeifer said. “To our surprise and delight, they agreed to join us. And we snagged a few out of Texas.”