Medical examiners office struggles to keep up with workload

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BAY COUNTY Fla. (WMBB) — The year 2020 has been different for everyone and adjusting to the new normal has not been easy. The 14th District Medical Examiner is seeing an overload in cases due to the pandemic and they are facing challenges they’ve never seen before.

Chief Medical Examiner, Jay Radtke, said we are three-quarters of the way through the year and we have almost met the total number of cases handled throughout the entire year of 2019.

“So this is the first week of August we’re already at 416 compared to 548 last year,” said Radtke. 

The increase in cases is hard to take on with a five person staff.

They have requested help from both the state and the department of health because their small staff is not equipped to handle doing their jobs, watching the phones and communicating with nursing homes.

The issue is, in normal time the medical examiner would not be getting the COVID-19 cases because it is technically a natural death. But because they must review the records and confirm this person died from COVID-19 related issues before signing a death certificate.

“But because now those are our cases our workload is just tremendous. You know we’re getting five or six or ten a day,” said Radtke. “As fast as we can get them done we get another one.”

Radtke said COVID-19 cases also take longer because of the special precautions like wearing special HEPA filter respirators and doing the autopsies in a special morgue outback that has its air supply. Although their full plate is causing a chain reaction in the process.

“So the funeral homes are getting backed up,” said Radtke. “So until we sign that death certificate the people cannot be cremated and so now they’re having to wait even more so it’s a slippery slope we’re going down at the moment.”

He also says 98% of the COVID death cases they are seeing are people over the age of 65 or those with underlying issues.

Radtke said he is not seeing many deaths from young healthy people, but this just proves how serious this virus can be to those in jeopardy of contracting it.

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