Trumbull coroner seeks budget increase to hire 2nd forensic pathologist
By Ed Runyan
Trumbull County is having another record year for drug-overdose deaths this year with about 150 already. The county had 107 in 2016.
Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk, Trumbull County coroner, told county commissioners Tuesday at his budget hearing that he has tried for two years to hire a second forensic pathologist to help him manage the huge workload brought on by the opiate crisis and has gotten “not a single bite.”
One reason is that bigger coroner’s offices in Cleveland, Toledo and Columbus are also trying to hire additional forensic pathologists, and many candidates have never heard of Warren.
He said his caseload has grown the past three years from 310 in 2015 to 328 in 2016.
“This afternoon I have (No.) 351 waiting for me, and it hasn’t even hit December yet,” Dr. Germaniuk said.
Dr. Germaniuk has been part of teams that accredited coroner’s offices in Cleveland and Columbus, and he knows that a coroner’s office with a single forensic pathologist handling more than 250 cases a year “instantly loses their accreditation,” he said.
His office is seeking an increase in his budget from about $770,000 to about $1,111,000, about $250,000 of that being for a second forensic pathologist if he can hire one.
“We’ve been pounding the pavement now for two years,” he said of adding a second person.
He said he attended a national conference in Arizona, where he learned of 30 coroner’s offices seeking one, two or more forensic pathologists.
“Everyone is looking. I’ve put out our fliers, our salary, not a single bite,” he said.
One reason is the opiate epidemic hit without warning several years ago, so not enough people are trained for the job.
The commissioners, who have recently received information from members of the citizens budget review committee questioning some of the costs at the coroner’s office, asked Dr. Germaniuk if there were ways to reduce the number of autopies he conducts.
Commissioners Dan Polivka and Mauro Cantalamessa asked why Dr. Germaniuk carries out autopsies on all overdoses when some counties do not.
“Some people are cutting corners,” he said. “You can cut corners, but sooner or later – I’ve seen it more than once – it comes back and bites you.”
An autopsy rules out other reasons for the person’s death, such as homicide, he said. Another reason is an autopsy provides the best source of blood for a toxicology test.
Another reason is he learns of other medical problems in addition to an overdose, such as serious heart problems.
He said finding out someone has an enlarged heart, for example, would be important to the dead person’s child so he or she could be tested for heart problems of their own.
When asked why he insists on hiring registered nurses instead of lower-paid investigators, he said his registered nurses have more than 100 years of nursing experience and are better with families.