State News

May 5, 2013

Ga. audit: Coroners aren't reporting all suicides

ATHENS (AP) — A new state audit says county coroners across Georgia aren't reporting suicides and all suspicious deaths to the State Medical Examiner's Office as required by law.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation runs the Medical Examiner's Office. The Athens Banner-Herald reports that the audit released by the Department of Audits and Accounts said the GBI acknowledges that such cases may not be reported as required, but they have not taken action to address the issue.

The audit, released last week, is a follow-up to one in 2010 that noted local officials were glossing over certain deaths and recommended strengthening state law to require the reporting of all deaths to the state.

The new audit said, "GBI acknowledges that such cases may not be reported as required; however, they have not taken action to address the issue."

GBI Director Vernon Keenan sent a letter to the auditor saying, "To date, the more pressing needs of GBI have supplanted the exploration of changes to the Georgia Death Investigation Act."

The audit also found the Medical Examiner's Office isn't meeting its target of issuing timely autopsy reports.

Keenan wrote that the state did not get 90 percent of its autopsy reports issued within its own 90-day target, but he said the hiring of an additional medical examiner is reducing the backlog.

The state's three medical labs handle nearly 5,000 autopsies each year, and half involve tests for alcohol or illegal drugs, which add to the delays. Local medical examiners in 65 communities handle the rest.

County coroners recommend physicians to the state's chief medical examiner, who makes the formal appointment of the local medical examiners. The audit said many have no background in forensic pathology. Keenan said there aren't enough pathologists in Georgia to make it a requirement, and GBI Medical Examiner's Office feels such training is not necessary.

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