DC's Medical Examiner Office receives full accreditation

The D.C. Medical Examiner's Office is now fully accredited. For years, the department has been dealing with accreditation problems, complaints about backlogs and slow service.

On Thursday, reporters were invited inside the facility to take a closer look at how things operate now.

The office said it is a new era in their agency. Earning full accreditation is an important accolade in its own right, but many say it is even more impressive for D.C. given just how far the office has had to come to earn it.

When someone dies in the District, the Medical Examiner's Office is where their body comes as an autopsy is performed to determine how and when a person died.

"Where we do our work, where we start the service of our families that are seeing some of the worst times in their life - our main goal here at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is to serve those families," said Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Roger Mitchell.

The department said it is better equipped to do that now than ever before given the national designation it just received.

"For the first time in the history of this city, we are fully accredited by the National Association of Medical Examiners," Mitchell said. "It shows that the office in the past has been working towards the standard. Now it shows we are meeting and exceeding the standard."

The chief medical examiner invited the media into the office for the first time to show it off.

This office has faced mountains of complaints in recent years. It was stripped of a partial accreditation because the former chief medical examiner was not board-certified in pathology.

Defense attorneys often cited this to raise doubts about the Medical Examiner's Office's findings. Backlogs of cases and deep delays in autopsy reports were known to repeatedly slow down investigations and criminal cases.

But Dr. Mitchell said the office has been overhauled during the last two years.

"There is no backlog," he told us.

When Mitchell took over in 2014, only 38 percent of autopsy reports were completed in 90 days. Two years later, 90 to 95 percent are finished during that 90-day period.

On top of that, for the first time, he said the office has a full staff of board-certified forensic pathologists.

"Now we have a national standard, a stamp that shows we are part of a small group of offices in the country that are operating at this national standard," said Dr. Mitchell.

That national standard is not given out much. Mitchell said of the 300 medical examiner offices in the country, only 73 are fully accredited.