Expedite hiring to make coroner office whole again


Taxpayers throughout Mahoning County should be heartened to learn they’ll likely soon reap stronger returns on their investment in the operations of the county coroner’s office. An expected hiring of a critical team member bodes well for increased efficiency and lowered costs.

If all goes as planned, the office this summer will have a qualified forensic pathologist on staff and on call to fully and professionally perform autopsies and investigations of the scores of questionable deaths. It’s a critically needed position to advance public health and mete out fair justice.

Mahoning County Coroner Dr. David Kennedy, in an exclusive story in The Vindicator last Saturday, said he has identified two well-qualified candidates for the position, one of whom should be in place here as the office’s forensic pathologist as soon as July.

Dr. Kennedy warrants appreciation for working persistently to fill the void left by the sickness and death of former medical examiner Dr. Joseph Ohr in April 2017. By all accounts, it was no easy feat.

When it comes to attracting well-qualified medical examiners and forensic pathologists, Ohio, like every other state in the union, has been waging a largely losing battle for years now against the forces of supply and demand.

Simply put, an estimated supply of about 500 certified U.S. forensic pathologists cannot even begin to meet the demonstrated demand of at least 1,000 such professionals from state and local governments across the country.

Clearly, that gap, which grows wider by the day from increasing strains from the out-of-control opiate-overdose epidemic, must be closed. Long-term solutions proposed by such groups as the National Commission on Forensic Science call for local governments to make salaries more competitive and for education leaders to wage a strong campaign to recruit more medical students into the grueling yet rewarding public-health discipline.

A survey by the College of American Pathologists revealed that the average compensation of private-sector full-time pathologists is approximately $335,000. In contrast, the average salary of a public-sector forensic pathologist or medical examiner is about half that amount at about $180,000.

MAHONING AS TEXTBOOK EXAMPLE

The costs and inefficiencies resulting from the lack of a forensic pathologist in Mahoning County provide a textbook example on why any and all initiatives to deepen the pool of qualified medical-examiner candidates have merit here and across the nation.

Consider, first, cost savings. For more than a year now, Mahoning County has had to transport bodies more than 60 miles north to Cuyahoga County for autopsies. That’s an expensive, inefficient and time-consuming alternative to performing those cause-of-death investigations in-house in Youngstown.

Dr. Kennedy estimates performing autopsies at the coroner’s quarters at Oakhill Renaissance Place would save taxpayers here at least $50,000 per year.

Consider, too, the positive impact on the county’s criminal justice system by having a certified medical examiner and trained investigator in our own backyard. Such forensic pathologists often are called upon to offer critical expert testimony in high-profile court cases. That testimony can prove pivotal in the final determinations among jurors of a defendant’s guild or innocence and his or her freedom or incarceration.

On a more personal plain, the forensic pathologist can make the period of pain and suffering for surviving family members a little less anxious.

The absence of a nearby forensic pathologist oftentimes has translated into longer lapses in time before families can receive death certificates, make funeral arrangements, collect insurance payments and have gnawing questions answered about their loved one’s death.

With so much riding on it, the hiring of a Mahoning County forensic pathologist must proceed as expeditiously as possible. The stars have aligned perfectly, as $534,000 in needed ventilation improvements to the county morgue are now nearly complete and ready.

County taxpayers and county residents are ready, too, for the new hiring. After all, they deserve nothing less than utmost professionalism and keen sensitivity in the handling of their intensely personal matters of life and death.

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