Is Lubbock affected by medical examiner shortage in Texas? - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

9/30/09

Is Lubbock affected by medical examiner shortage in Texas?

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By Katie Bauer  - bio | email

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - Homicide investigations in Texas might suffer from junk science. That's what some folks interviewed by the Fort Worth Star Telegram this week have said. Could this be a problem in Lubbock too?

In the Star Telegram article it states there is a shortage of qualified medical examiners across the state. It states that because of growing caseloads, some offices have not followed recommendations from the National Association of Medical Examiners.

Lubbock County Commissioners took over the Medical Examiner's office this year, so we wanted to know if this was the case here in Lubbock. "I think overall there is a shortage within Texas," said Lubbock County's Medical Examiner  Dr. Sridhar Natarajan.   

Natarajan says the shortage across the state has to do with what the job entails. "First, to do this job you are going to have to have an interest in it and there are a lot of difficult things about being a forensic pathologist. One is the nature of cases you are getting, two you are always scrutinized," he said.

But with commissioners taking over the medical examiner's office, hiring Natarajan, with his qualifications, is one way Lubbock County is making sure they've got the best person for the job.

The National Association of Medical Examiners suggests that a forensic pathologist with no administrative duties not to exceed 250 autopsies per year. Natarajan says this year he will complete around 350. "The way they are actually counted depends on the kind of autopsy you are doing, so the number itself doesn't directly correspond to the number of autopsies," said Natarajan.

But Lubbock Attorney Tommy Turner was the special prosecutor who charged former Lubbock Medical Examiner Ralph Erdmann, in the mid 90's, for falsifying autopsy results, which was blamed in part of Erdmann's massive work load.

Turner says there should be more restrictions and not just suggestions for medical examiners to abide by. "My experience with medical examiner's has been that they are not policed well, there is no accountability, there are no standards," said Turner.

Turner says as an attorney it is difficult to question a medical examiner's report. "There is really no way for a defense lawyer to disprove the conclusions of a pathologist that did the report," said Turner.

But Natarajan says he is working hard to get Lubbock County on the right track. "The goal here is to one make sure we meet the standards and two continue in a control fashion to look for additional physicians as necessary," he said.

The Lubbock County Commissioners have budgeted $2 million for the M.E.'s office this year.

Next week Dr. Masahiko Kobayashi will start working full time alongside Dr. Natarajan.

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