Saturday, April 1, 2017

Medical examiner quits, then stays; was in dispute over resources, autopsy delays, hiring of former legislator to run office

Photo illustration from WKYT-TV
Dr. William Ralston quit his job as the state's chief medical examiner Friday "over frustrations involving personnel decisions and financial concerns for his office," then agreed to stay after the state initially said his resignation was accepted, reports Miranda Combs of Lexington's WKYT-TV.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports Ralston and Justice Secretary John Tilley "came to an agreement for Ralston to stay as chief medical examiner sometime around 6 p.m., Jimmy Pollard, a consultant for the Kentucky Coroners Association said. Mike Wynn, spokesman for the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet confirmed that Dr. Ralston is not leaving his position."

The back-and-forth came a few days after a letter the coroners' group sent Gov. Matt Bevin a certifed letter "saying economic challenges and unpaid bills are putting death investigations in jeopardy while the state hired an unqualified administrator to run the state medical examiner’s office," Combs reports.

Katie Stine (H-L photo)
Former state Rep. Katie Stine of Northern Kentucky was hired two weeks ago as executive director of the medical examiner's office. "Pollard said the hiring of Stine, who is being paid $80,000 a year and is eligible for $27,222 from her legislative pension, was the final straw for Ralston, who had been fighting for more funding for the medical examiner’s office for months," Morgan Eads and Daniel Desrochers report for the Herald-Leader. Pollard said Stine is not qualified to oversee the office.

Lyon County Coroner Ronnie Patton, president of the coroners' group, told Bevin in the letter, “The state has not paid its bills or provided funds to hire doctors and support staff, but can hire administrative personnel with no previous knowledge of the medical examiner’s program’s operation, at a tremendous salary.”

Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn told the Herald -Leader that a shortage of medical examiners has delayed cases for some time. "With fewer examiners, it’s taking longer for county coroners to receive completed autopsy reports. And, as the number of heroin deaths has increased, Pollard said, coroners and the medical examiner’s office have more pressure to determine cause of death so U.S. attorneys can prosecute drug dealers," the newspaper reports.

"Autopsies related to homicide cases have been prioritized so as not to delay investigations, but waiting for autopsy reports in accidental death cases can affect families, Ginn said. County coroners are unable to sign death certificates until autopsy reports are completed. Until death certificates are signed, families are often unable to begin taking care of matters like life insurance or property transfers."

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