LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - The KCBD Investigates Team started asking questions about a backlog at the Lubbock County Medical Examiner’s Office days ago, after viewers questioned why they were not receiving death certificates and autopsy reports months after their loved ones had passed.
Those questions prompted a news conference Tuesday afternoon where Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Sam Andrews said he had identified 427 backlogged cases since starting the job on October 1.
According to Texas law, death certificates must be signed within 10 days of the death.
“The 427 are unfinished autopsy or examination reports. The death certificates in some form have been signed whether its a pending death certificate or a final death certificate,” Andrews said.
When Andrews found the backlog, he said he took the problem to the Lubbock County commissioners who are working with him and the National Autopsy Assay Group to get caught up.
As we first reported in September, Lubbock County approved a one-year renewable contract with NAAG, a medical corporation headquartered in San Diego.
“With those cases that have pre-dated my time here and the time of the NAA Group, we have to look at these cases and do a review. I’m not just going to sign off on them. Professionally, that’s just not honest. I have to make sure the work I am signing off on is accurate,” Andrews said.
Andrews said his team has identified 30 cases of high priority they will complete within the month.
He said there are another 122 cases he hopes to have finished within the next three to four months.
In addition to the backlog, the medical examiner’s office receives 40 to 50 new cases a month.
Evan Matches with NAAG said they are engaging all of their resources including new doctors to help Andrews push through the backlogged cases in a timely, ethical manner.
“One of the mandates that we have been given by the county is to help enhance and elevate the office to national accreditation standards, and in fact to seek national accreditation through the National Association of Medical Examiners and part of that accreditation process demonstrates an ongoing commitment and capacity to close 90 percent of cases within 60 days and then 90 percent of the remaining within 90,” said Evan Matches, an administrator with the NAAG.
We asked County Commissioner Bill McCay when he became aware of the problems at the medical examiner’s office.
“I had not gotten these phone calls that there were issues from the public,” said McCay. “The county became aware of the backlog when he did the audit."
“I think with the contract we have with NAAG Dr. Matches and his organization, there will be a great deal of communication about open cases and the closure of these cases as we work through that. It’s a critical issue,” McCay said.
We asked Andrews what his office wants the families who have waited months, even years for their loved one’s death certificates and autopsy reports to know.
“I apologize is the best I can do to help relieve any anxiety, but to assure them that we are working with the county and the NAA Group to address that backlog and get them out as fast we can,” Andrews said.