News / Calgary

MLA calls multiple departures from Calgary medical examiner's office 'deeply concerning'

Currently, there are 10 medical examiners working in Alberta, split between offices in Edmonton and Calgary

Calgary-Mountainview MLA Dr. David Swann wants the province to conduct a five-year review of the historic and current management practices of the OME in Alberta.

Kevin Tuong / Edmonton Freelance

Calgary-Mountainview MLA Dr. David Swann wants the province to conduct a five-year review of the historic and current management practices of the OME in Alberta.

The province is actively recruiting medical examiners in an effort to keep up with a growing case backlog, according to the associate minister of health.

Brandy Payne told Metro her heart goes out to families that are waiting, sometimes up to a year, for autopsies and toxicology reports to be completed.

“I hear the frustration from families who are waiting to receive the medical examiner’s report,” Payne said. “It is a very specialized profession, so it does take some time to find and recruit those individuals.”

Calgary-Mountainview MLA Dr. David Swann called news of three upcoming vacancies in the Calgary office “deeply concerning” in a letter to the Alberta’s acting minister of justice and solicitor general dated Dec. 20.

“These departing medical professionals make up 60 per cent of the complement of examiners from this office,” Swann wrote in a letter to Marlin Schmidt.

“Despite attempts by the government to frame this departure as for ‘private reasons,’ the fact that all three have announced their sudden retirement seems to indicate there is a deeper issue here that needs to be addressed,” he continued.

There are 10 ME’s in Alberta, split between the Office of the Medical Examiner’s (OME) offices in Edmonton and Calgary.

The OME conducts an investigation when a sudden death occurs, or a death which cannot be explained – including overdoses.

Determining the cause of death is taking up to a year in some cases because of a backlog created by the growing opioid crisis in this province, according to Graeme Jones, chief toxicologist with Alberta’s OME.

“(The opioid crisis) has impacted both the laboratory and the pathologists … because we’re not just dealing with a single drug in most cases, we’re dealing often with multiple drugs,” Jones told Metro in June last year.

Swann said he wants the province to conduct a five-year review of the historic and current management practices of the OME in Alberta, including those of Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Elizabeth Brooks-Lim, who was appointed to the job in December 2016.

In a response letter sent to the media by Swann, Schmidt said the ministry has a plan in place to maintain services, as the three medical examiners won’t leave their posts until the spring or summer of 2018.

“Since the start of Dr. Brooks-Lim’s tenure, significant strides have been made to invest in the services provided by the OCME,” Schmidt wrote.

“Examples of this include the appointment of two experienced Deputy Chief Medical Examiners, which has provided stability and a complementary level of leadership at both site offices, a process improvement project that is underway to obtain efficiencies in operations, and partnership in the production of quarterly opioid and substances of misuse reports by Alberta Health.”

Swann said on Thursday that he isn’t convinced.

“I, and some medical colleagues, are not reassured by the government contention that ‘transition and replacement plans are underway to ensure services continue,’” he said.

“It is highly likely that services are, and will be, affected.”

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