, Muskogee, OK

July 29, 2013

Medical Examiner's Office under heavy backlog

Case total exceeds 1,300, including some from 2011

Associated Press

— TULSA (AP) — Families have had to endure long waits to learn how a loved one died because of a huge backlog of cases at the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office.

The office has a backlog of 1,352 cases, including 1,180 from this year, 165 from last year and seven from 2011, the Tulsa World reported Sunday.

Amy Elliott, the agency’s chief administrative officer, said it has succeeded in cutting the amount of time spent on cases, but that the agency doesn’t have enough room for the people they need to hire.

“I have actually transformed a closet where we house our anthropologist,” Elliott told the World. “I actually have her in a closet. There’s literally no place for me to put people.”

Elliott said there has been some movement from state lawmakers to get the Medical Examiner’s Office some additional space. But a new building would cost about $42 million without including any of the expensive equipment needed, Elliott said.

The agency has six physicians in the Oklahoma City office and two in Tulsa, Elliott said. She said she hopes to have two more in Tulsa and one more in Oklahoma City by the end of the year.

However, Elliott said that without more space, additional funding for more staff won’t do the office any good.

The office in Oklahoma City has only three tables on which to operate, even though Elliott said a Medical Examiner’s Office its size should have 10.

For now, the backlog is taking a toll on the families of the dead who have to wait months or longer for answers.

Erica Duke’s family waited for months for a report from the Medical Examiner’s Office after the 26-year-old pregnant woman was found slumped over a table in her Spiro home in February.

This month, they got word from the state: Duke died of a blood clot.

“She was fixing to take a bath, and she just died — her and the baby,” Duke’s father, Eric Ladd, told the World. “She was a beautiful girl. I wished they’d hurried it up. It shouldn’t have taken four to five months. That’s undue stress on a parent.”