The Telegram (St. John's)
Parsons promises action on woes in Chief Medical Examiner’s office
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is woefully understaffed and operating out of a completely inadequate windowless suite in the basement of the Health Sciences Centre, according to a report.
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is woefully understaffed and operating out of a completely inadequate windowless suite in the basement of the Health Sciences Centre according to a report released Friday by Justice Minister Andrew Parsons.
Speaking to the media Friday afternoon, Parsons promised action, although it’s not clear what’s going to be done, or how quickly it can happen.
Parsons didn’t mince words about the dismaying state of the medical examiner’s office.
“In many ways, it had to have been ignored, and these are the things that lead to situations where you have a series of events that culminate in a tragedy,” Parsons said.
“It’s unacceptable, and it’s really unfortunate that it had to happen in this situation.”
The tragedy that brought the situation to a head was the 2015 second-degree murder case of Thomas Michel, who was accused of killing his four-month old son Matthew Rich. The case was dropped when it was discovered that the baby’s brain, a key piece of evidence, was lost by the medical examiner’s office, and likely destroyed.
In the subsequent review from Dr. Matthew Bowes, the Nova Scotia chief medical examiner, major problems were documented due to a spectacularly understaffed office, and major problems with the space where they were located.
A 2016 threat assessment noted that there were no security cameras at the office, which is a concern since they handle court evidence and it could be at risk of tampering or theft.
“We note that many of the recommendations in this (threat assessment) were labelled ‘immediate’ have still not been acted upon,” Bowes wrote in his report.
Due to understaffing, Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Simon Avis is on call every single day by default, unless he can arrange somebody to cover.
Parsons wouldn’t commit to enacting all of the recommendations in the Bowes report, saying that it is “still going through a bureaucratic process,” but he said that staffing would improve.
“I can’t say that for sure. What I will say is that the status quo as identified by Dr. Bowes is not an option,” Parsons said. “Change needs to happen.”
Enacting changes would likely cost millions of dollars, especially if the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is moved to larger office space — potentially in a stand-alone building.
Parsons said money might be a factor, but the issue is serious.
“We consider finance when it comes to absolutely everything. We have no choice, that’s the situation that we find ourselves presented with,” he said. “We have to consider every dollar. That being said, when you see a situation where inadequate staffing is identified as a cause of this, then let’s just say that I will be presenting what I think it s a very strong case, backed up by this, that we need staffing.”