ATLANTA — Channel 2 Action News has learned there is a statewide shortage of medical examiners that is having a direct impact on local families.
After a loved one dies, a medical examiner may have to help to determine how they died. If there are not enough examiners, that could mean a grieving family has to wait to bury their loved one.
“We’re already dealing with a lot and the anxiety issues and trying to call them, and it’s like they’re frustrated with us calling,” said Angelic Heath, whose son was shot and killed on June 2.
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She has been calling the Clayton County Medical Examiner’s Office because she is trying to plan her son’s funeral.
“We had already set the dates for one day, because I was told, ‘Ma’am, go ahead and start preparing.’ So the date I actually prepared for, they told me it wasn’t going to happen,” Heath said.
It’s because the office was short-staffed and had a big caseload.
“We want to know so we can get closure on having our loved ones prepared and buried as well,” Heath said.
Channel 2′s Dave Huddleston has learned it’s an issue all over the state, including at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
“Medical examiner’s offices across the country are being stretched to their limit as far as case numbers,” said Dr. Geoffrey Smith, the GBI’s chief medical examiner.
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The National Association of Medical Examiners website said medical examiners — also called forensic pathologists — examine how a person died, if the death was sudden, unexpected or violent.
Smith said he would be fully staffed with 18 medical examiners.
“We’re at half-staff at the moment,” Smith told Huddleston.
Rachel Geller is an associate medical examiner and director of the forensic pathology program working to find those new doctors for the GBI.
“We can provide closure, we can diagnose disease that may not have been diagnosed in life, we can help people,” Geller said.
She said the GBI is vigorously recruiting and trying to lure doctors to Georgia, but many young doctors don’t know enough about the field.
“Last time the forensic boards were offered in 2021, 38 individuals sat for that board examination,” Geller said.
That’s for the entire country.
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The GBI hired Dr. Michelle DiMarco a year ago.
“I think that’s the most difficult thing, people don’t know about it until after they’ve already made their decision to go into some sort of different area of medicine,” Dr. DiMarco said.
She said she heard about pathology on a whim.
“My boyfriend said every day it seems like you’re living a TV show and it does feel like that,” Dr. DiMarco said.
She said she feels like she’s helping to make a big difference when people really need answers.
“You’re not only just helping the person who has passed on, in addition to that, you are helping their family,” Dr. DiMarco said.
The GBI works on cases all over the state and has three offices for the forensic pathology team — in DeKalb County, Macon, and outside Savannah. Starting pay is $250,000 a year.
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