Lack of medical examiners causing backlog of cases at Georgia crime labs

Medical Examiners needed in the GBI Crime lab
Medical Examiners needed in the GBI Crime lab(Abby Kousouris)
Published: Jan. 20, 2023 at 6:13 PM EST
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Medical examiners in Georgia are doing about twice the work that they should be. The National Association of Medical Examiners says no medical examiner should complete no more than 250 medical exams per year, but the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) says their medical examiners are performing close to 400 exams a year.

GBI Director Mike Register said they’re still struggling to keep up with a growing amount of casework because of a lack of medical examiners. He said that their department has 10 open positions and they’re actively looking to hire forensic pathologists to help them with backlogged cases.

Medical examiners process evidence and perform autopsies and toxicology tests that can give answers to families. Register gave a presentation to state lawmakers on Thursday. He said he was aware of the problem and is looking for ways to fix this.

Sharika Watkins first shared her story with Atlanta News First a year ago. She needed a death certificate for her daughter Erika to begin processing important paperwork. A year later, she’s still calling the state’s crime lab.

“It’s like a headache. You’re wondering what happened,” said Watkins.

Muskogee County Coroner Buddy Bryan said some of his cadavers had to wait weeks or months to be processed. The backlog of cases began when the state cut the number of crime labs from five to three. He would call the crime lab and they would tell him they didn’t have a table and he’d have to wait for a table.

" I don’t know what the fix is. I really don’t, unless the state comes up with more money to have the crime lab pay for good, qualified people to want to come in and provide that service. It’s a vitally important service,” said Bryan.

Right now there are 10 open examiners positions. the GBI’s Director says that three new medical examiners will be hired by July, but that it’s hard to attract qualified people for the job.