Emily Rice Published

Death Certificate Delays Discussed In Legislative Meeting

A woman wearing a navy vest and identification badge stands to speak at a podium.
Dr. Sherri Young testifies in front of the Health and Human Resources Accountability committee.
Will Price/WV Legislative Photography

Some families are waiting months to receive a loved one’s death certificate from the state Medical Examiner’s office, a health committee for the legislature learned this week.

Dr. Sherri Young, the new Secretary of the Department of Health, discussed staffing shortages in the Office of the Medical Examiner during a meeting of the Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Resources Accountability.

She said the office has severe staffing needs and the need for more space.

“Actually, we do need about seven to 10 spaces for us to be able to complete multiple autopsies at one time,” Young said “We have three tables open at the time at this time. So the ability to be able to work on multiple reviews at the same time would be much, much needed as well.”

Sen. Amy Grady, R-Mason, asked about the delay in death certificates.

“I had a lot of questions and concerns about the amount of time it takes for people to get finalized death certificates,” Grady said. “But there’s a bad backlog. Some people are waiting for two years, which causes financial hardship a lot of times on the families. Is there a plan?”

Young said that the average wait for a death certificate is 200 to 250 days in West Virginia and suggested areas for improvement.

“Some immediate plans would be, as we discussed with Senator Takubo, the ability to do the labs in-house so that we can get the toxicology piece much faster, being able to do more targeted exams, are starting with the X-ray machine that they have purchased,” Young said. “Implementing those are some of the short-term fixes. Long-term fixes are going to be facility-based, and staffing based so that we can get more folks in to help with that issue.”

She said the state needs 12 medical examiners and currently has three. These shortages are in part because only about 17 pathologists graduate with a forensic pathologist degree each year in the U.S., according to Young.