Backlog of autopsies delay funeral services for grieving familie - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Backlog of autopsies delay funeral services for grieving families

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A high number of deaths that require autopsies and an understaffed Iowa Medical Examiner’s Office have created delays of up to two weeks in returning the remains of loved ones to family members.

Kaiser-Corson funeral home owner Steven Corson, who's been in the family business for more than thirty years, says he's never seen a backlog in autopsies before this December. 

 "Normally, before these backlogs it was a day or two and the post would be completed," said Corson.

Corson, along with other funeral directors, are finding themselves in a tough position having to relay the message to families. 

"We're right in the middle of it," said Corson. "Well what can you do to speed it up? Nothing, and we would call them daily to get a progress report and they would just have to tell us that it's going to be some time yet."

The State Medical Examiner's office sent a message to the Iowa Funeral Director's Association on Wednesday, notifying them that the back log for autopsies is currently through Friday of next week, June 23th, 2017. 

"Right now if a body does need to go to the medical examiner's office they can't guarantee when the post will be completed," said Corson. 

A message sent to funeral homes from the Iowa Funeral Director's Association instructed, "Because of the growing back log of cases at IOSME, they are no longer able to state with certainty what day an autopsy will be performed or if the body will be released the dame day of autopsy (i.e. identification issues, evidence collection, additional exams, etc.)"

The State Medical Examiner's office says the reason for the backlog is two-fold. Both a surge in cases and they're office being short staffed a pathologist. Typically, the department has four pathologists and currently they're operating with three. 

"For us to talk to a family that just lost a loved one, to let them know that it could be a week to ten days before we even plan anything, because we can't plan anything until we's very uncomfortable," said Corson. "But we have to be honest with the families, and most of them understand but I tell you when you just lost somebody, a minute seems like a day."

Currently, every unattended death goes to the State Medical Examiner's office. Corson believes one way to reduce the backlog is determining whether or not it is necessary for each case to go to the state's office. 

The State Medical Examiner's office says the autopsy cases "are from several different parts of the state - both violent and non-violent deaths. All the
cases included in this backlog are medical examiner cases, and as such, need forensic autopsies. County Medical Examiners, County Attorneys, and the State Medical Examiner have the statutory authority and obligation to request that a forensic autopsy be performed in cases where death is suspected to have arisen from violent, suspicious, and unexpected circumstances."

The office also added that there is high demand for forensic pathologists nationally, because of the opioid epidemic that has increased the need for forensic autopsies.

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