MAHONING COUNTY Still wanted: a forensic pathologist
Mahoning County's deal to have Cuyahoga County do its autopsies has expired.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County's search for a forensic pathologist to work in the coroner's office has lasted more than six months.
Coroner David Kennedy said Wednesday it will likely be at least seven more months before someone is found to fill the position.
In the meantime, the county has no one to perform autopsies on a regular basis.
"It's frustrating," Kennedy said. "I really had hoped we could get someone on board by the end of last year."
The position has been vacant since Dr. Jesse Giles, deputy coroner and forensic pathologist, left in June for a similar position in Florida. He had performed nearly all the county's autopsies.
Deal is over
After Giles' departure, bodies were sent to the Cuyahoga County coroner's office for autopsies, but that arrangement expired when the new year rang in.
Kennedy said Cuyahoga County's forensic staff is short-handed and could no longer handle the increased workload from Mahoning County, which generally needs about 150 autopsies done each year.
Akron has done some autopsies for the county since the beginning of this year, but likewise does not have the capacity to handle all the county's needs, Kennedy said. Some bodies could end up being transported as far away as Columbus and Dayton for autopsies.
Other counties are reluctant to accept Mahoning's autopsy work because their staffs are already overworked and because forensic pathologists don't like having to testify in court for murder cases, Kennedy said. That was something Giles often did because of his expertise and because he'd done the autopsies.
Kennedy said the actual cost of the autopsy is about the same, no matter who does the work. Cuyahoga County had charged $1,040 per autopsy.
"It's a cost issue," Kennedy said. "The farther away you send a body, the more it costs to move the body."
Having to send bodies so far away also takes longer to get them back, which forces families to delay funeral arrangements, Kennedy said.
"It's hard on families," Kennedy said. "These are people who, in most cases, are already dealing with the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one."
Kennedy has advertised the position across the country but has received little response. Only one candidate responded and was interviewed, but the man was apparently reluctant to leave his home state of Kentucky.
"That was my only nibble," Kennedy said.
He's advertising again, this time at medical schools and hospitals where forensic pathologists are trained. Those students generally complete their training and fellowships in July, which is when Kennedy expects more candidates to become available for the post to be filled.
"In the meantime, we just keep doing the best we can," he said.
Kennedy has said he might have to increase the pay from $110,000 to $125,000 a year, but that doesn't seem likely given the county's budget constraints.
Kennedy requested $752,898 for this year, but was budgeted only $500,000 by commissioners, who cut budgets for all offices by 20 percent from 2002, when the coroner's office spent about $622,000.