HOPKINS COUNTY, KY (3/7/12) – The following is a letter from former regional Medical Examiner Deirdre Schluckebier concerning the removal of the Medical Examiners Office in Madisonville.
To Whom It May Concern:
I am writing this letter to address the proposed closing of the Western Kentucky Medical Examiner’s Office. Having served as Medical examiner for this region for eight years (2003-2011), I clearly understand the importance of this service to the citizens of Western Kentucky and believe eliminating it will not only put undue strain on the resources of the counties, law enforcement and funeral homes, but also will create public safety concerns.
In my tenure as Regional Medical Examiner, the Western office averaged between 250 to 300 cases per year. This does not include cases from the region that were sent to the Louisville office when I was not available. Through my experience and interaction with coroners, I know that cases are often not sent to Louisville if that is the only option available. The time, expense and general inconvenience of such a long drive often is the deciding factor as to whether or not a body is sent for autopsy. This means that coroners rely only on scene investigation and toxicology to determine cause and manner of death. If the Western Office closes, I am confident that this will continue to be the case and will, at some point, result in injustice.
This is not the only public safety issue that will result from the closing of the WKME. It is not only the job of the Medical Examiner to perform autopsies, but he/she must be available to assist law enforcement at crime scenes should the need arise. Even with the office in Madisonville, this sometimes means a several hour delay in scene investigation while waiting on the ME to arrive. If no Medical Examiner is available in the region, and one would have to come from Louisville (assuming one is available and willing), the wait could potentially be over 4 hours. Those first few hours of investigation are crucial and this excessive time delay could have a serious negative impact on the investigation.
I find it truly sad that the needs of the citizens of Western Kentucky are being pushed aside so easily, especially in light of the fact that the Commonwealth is led by a native of the region. During my time in Madisonville, I came to realize the needs of this region are different than those of other portions of the state. I made it my goal to make the office a place where the coroners, law enforcement and families of this region felt their needs were respected, and met them to the best of my ability. Over the years, though, I came to realize more and more how difficult the job is for one person and I have thought of many changes that could be made to make the office more efficient while still providing excellent forensic services. I would be more than happy to share those ideas if there are those who are willing to listen. Wasteful spending happens when decisions are made by people who have no idea what the specific needs of a facility/community are, or care enough to take the time to find out. Before the decision is made to close this office, I believe a thorough audit of all the offices involved in the Kentucky Medical Examiner’s division should be undertaken. There are definitely ways to keep the WKME office open, providing invaluable services to the citizens of this region, while meeting budgetary concerns.
Kentucky is not all about what happens in Louisville and Frankfort. The proposed closing of the Western Kentucky Medical Examiner’s office is sending a clear message that those in charge believe the needs of the citizens of this region fall far behind those of the rest of the Commonwealth. I believe this is a travesty. As a resident of the region myself, I can honestly say we deserve better.
Deirdre A. Schluckebier, MD
Information provided by Sen. Jerry Rhoads
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