Chief medical examiner hopes to foster interest in industry amid staff shortage

Albuquerque News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Like many industries these days, New Mexico’s Office of the Medical Investigator is short-staffed and struggling to keep up. Now they’re reaching out to a specific group for help. OMI’s chief investigator says they are working with local schools and colleges to pique interest in the field of forensics. “A lot of the people watch the forensic file shows and those kind of tv shows and a lot of people find forensics very very fascinating,” says Dr. Heather Jarrell.

But despite what is seen on TV, the forensic pathology industry is suffering. “We’ve still been understaffed through the pandemic with regard to pathologists,” Dr. Jarrell says.

Chief Medical Examiner for the state Office of the Medical Investigator Heather Jarrell says they were short-staffed throughout the pandemic. they just recently filled a position bringing them to five pathologists, fully staffed they have 9. “We are slowly getting back to those numbers but we still have a couple of vacancies,” Dr. Jarrell says.

Jarrell says they relied on temporary pathologists from the school of medicine to tackle the influx of bodies they saw last year. “They usually work about two weeks or a two-week stint give or take a few days depending on their schedule and our schedule needs,” Dr. Jarrell says.

Dr. David Scrase tells us COVID-19 death reports have been delayed because OMI is also working to clear a body backlog. Dr. Jarrell says along with COVID deaths, opioid-related deaths are also a concern. “As those numbers continue to increase as well as the homicides we just can’t keep up with the numbers,” Dr. Jarrell says.

Dr. Jarrell says pathologists are speaking in person and over zoom to New Mexico high school and some college students to hopefully get them interested in forensics sooner. “I think if we can get them interested then we can increase our numbers in forensics as well,” Dr. Jarrell says.

Dr. Jarrell says they do see a lot of burnout in the field and they are working to develop more mental health resources to help reduce the number of people leaving. At one point there were at least 115 cases caught up in the backlog at OMI but Dr. Scrase tells us they are down to just 6.

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