State lawmakers propose bills to reduce medical examiner's backlog

BOSTON — Families waiting years for autopsy reports. Some even being told they are not a priority. 
Those are some of the problems 25 Investigates recently exposed at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Now, as 25 Investigates’ Ted Daniel learned, state lawmakers are seeking to address some the issues at the ME’s Office, which has long been dogged by backlogs and controversy.

Among the many frustrated families waiting months, even years, for autopsy results from the Medical Examiner’s Office is Maggie Mancuso from Dorchester. She says she waited for nearly three years for the ME to complete an autopsy report for her three week old son, Ambrose, who died suddenly in her arms.

“Every time I called the overwhelming, overwhelming message, and it was said numerous times, every phone call I had was the baby is not a priority. Your case is not a priority,” recalls the mother of three.

Jodi and Jason Bissonnette of Dedham say they endured a similar agonizing wait. The couple was left racked with guilt after their baby boy, Thomas, died suddenly early last year. For more than a year, they wondered if they had missed a sign or done something to cause his sudden death.

“On top of thinking that you killed your son to have to deal with this extra – these phone calls, getting different answers, getting no answers, getting the run around,” said Jodi.

The Bissonnette’s finally got the answers they were seeking earlier this month, just a day after 25 Investigates brought their case to the attention of the ME’s office.

Following our report, we spoke to two legislators who introduced bills to give grieving families the closure they need and the answers they deserve.

Representative Sheila Harrington from Groton sent us a copy of the legislations she's co-sponsoring. It would require the Medical Examiner's Office to give families notice if an autopsy report cannot be completed within the mandated 90 days.

Representative Marjorie Decker from Cambridge also saw the latest 25 Investigates report and made us aware of another problem. She says the ME’s office recently issued an autopsy report with incorrect findings to a family in her district. The report had to be amended, causing more grief to the already devastated family.

She's proposing a new law that would require Chief Medical Examiner Mindy Hull to review and approve any findings "in the case of a death of a child under the age of two."

“Families all over the state deserve to have an expedited autopsy and what we were getting is that they didn't have enough resources,” said Rep. Decker, who is also calling for more funding, personnel and resources for the ME’s Office.  “What's clear is that they are under resourced for everybody. That they don't have enough experienced examiners who understand specifically around the health and well-being of children and what might cause death. That's a specialty right there they don't have enough there.”

25 Investigates has learned three new full-time medical examiners will be added by this July, and a Director of Neuropathology is expected to be on board by next year.

Following our initial report, the ME’s office told us they are working to address the delays and other concerns families have.

According to the ME’s office, if either the Harrington or Decker bill is enacted it will receive a thorough review.