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State seeks solution to certified pathologist shortage

Published: Monday, Jan. 14, 2013 1:15 a.m. CST

BLOOMINGTON (AP) – Illinois’ shortage of people who can perform autopsies for county coroners has left local authorities scrambling to make adjustments and a state association vowing to recruit more, according to a published report Sunday.

Illinois has fewer than 20 board certified forensic pathologists who perform autopsies. About half work in the Cook County, which includes Chicago and is the state’s most populous county, The (Bloomington) Pantagraph reported.

Counties in central Illinois got a second pathologist last year, meaning that pathologists can divide a workload that included 585 autopsies at the McLean County morgue last year.

Most of the bodies came from 15 other counties.

“We are morbidly short of forensic pathologists,” said Rock Island County Coroner Brian Gustafson, president of the Illinois Coroners and Medical Examiners Association. “It’s frustrating. We’re a big county, but not big enough to have a forensic pathologist within 100 miles.”

Several factors have contributed to the shortage of forensic pathologists, including a lack of interest among medical students who can make more in other fields of medicine or who simply prefer to treat the living, the paper reported. Many jurisdictions lack the money to justify paying a pathologist for $100,000 to $200,000 to perform what may be a relatively low number of autopsies.

“We’re in a painful transition period,” said Scott Denton, a Bloomington-based doctor, who does autopsies for coroners in McLean, Peoria and Champaign counties. “I probably do the work of two pathologists. We could definitely use a third or fourth person.”

The McLean County morgue at the coroner’s office is now open seven days a week to accommodate the record number of bodies coming to Bloomington for examination.

Peoria and Champaign counties have autopsy facilities but neither county has a board certified forensic pathologist.

The effort to recruit forensic pathologists is a priority among all coroners, Gustafson said.

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Information from: The Pantagraph, http://www.pantagraph.com

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