Major increase in autopsies strains Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office is violating the national standard on how many autopsies each of its pathologists can perform.

The standard set by the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) limits the number of cases per pathologist to 250 autopsies.

Travis County’s current caseload is 291 autopsies per pathologist.

“The increased caseload has impacted the entire office operations and the strain of the additional cases is also impacting toxicology, administrations and investigations,” wrote Chief Medical Examiner Keith Pinckard in a letter to Travis County Commissioners earlier this month. He explained the need for more funding and was granted approval to hire another forensic pathologist and an autopsy technician.

The Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office is responsible for the investigation and certification of cause and manner of death of all sudden, unexpected, violent, suspicious, or unnatural deaths that occur in Travis County. “As with any kind of work, an overwhelming workload could lead to mistakes and while the office has seen an upward trend over the past year, it is not such that is overwhelming. However, avoiding getting to that workload level is one of the driving factors to requesting additional staffing,” said County Spokesperson Hector Nieto.

The current staffing at the ME’s office consists of five full-time pathologists and two pathologists-in-training.

In 2019, the total caseload for the ME’s office was 2,108 autopsies.

For the the first time, the number of out-of-county autopsies have now exceeded the number of in county autopsies.

In 2019, Travis county Medical Examiners performed 1,006 out-of-county autopsies and 987 Travis County autopsies. The office also performed 345 external examinations which is equivalent to one autopsy.

Travis County charges $2,900 for every out-of-county case and anticipates an additional $710,000 in revenue for 2020 as a result of the increase caseload.

Pinckard tells County Commissioners the office will eventually need more pathologists to meet the national standard on caseload but says the ME office is currently accredited by NAME.

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