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Funerals delayed by unprecedented autopsy backlog at the Office of Chief Medical Examiner

FEMA brought in to help
Posted at 4:20 PM, Feb 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-17 18:07:00-05

BALTIMORE (WMAR) — There is an unprecedented backlog of autopsies at the Maryland Office of Chief Medical Examiner. The delays mean families are having to wait weeks to say goodbye to their loved ones.

“We try to calm them down by letting them know upfront that this is going to be process and it’s going to take a little extra time,” said Dennis Caple Sr., a mortician and manager at James A Morton and Sons Funeral Home in West Baltimore.

Caple said an autopsy by the office of chief medical examiner used to take a day. Now it’s taking up to 10. The delays are impacting funeral homes and families all across the state.

“It’s almost difficult for us to schedule funerals especially if the family wants to schedule the funeral within a week,” said Caple.

At the OCME, more than 200 bodies are awaiting an autopsy. The agency, located in Baltimore, is designated by law to investigate deaths that are sudden and unexpected, result from injury, occur under unexplained or suspicious circumstances, or when a person is not attended by a physician.

“Families don’t make that choice whether there’s an autopsy done or not,” said Caple. “A lot of times, they have to do autopsy just in case there’s a court trial or something that they need to make sure they’ve done their part.”

The Maryland Department of Health said the backlog is caused by a staffing shortage and increases in murders and drug overdoses, which are resource-intensive cases.

“Those guys ate the medical examiner’s office, they work very hard and they are very supportive of families and the funeral homes so we know they are moving as quickly as humanly possible,” said Caple.

MDH has coordinated with FEMA to supply four experts to support OCME while they try to fill the vacancies.