Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

April 22, 2011

Improving Services for Victim’s Families

It is paramount families have as many answers as possible and that justice is served.

House Speaker Kris Steele
Oklahoma House of Representatives

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma — In an ideal world, every obituary would simply list natural causes as the reason for death. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Accidents and senseless acts of violence can have horrific effects on innocent people, including loved ones.

In instances of suspicious death, it is paramount families have as many answers as possible and that justice is served. The Office of the Medical Examiner offers critical services in these circumstances by determining the cause of death and facilitating law enforcement investigations.

The agency’s work does not typically generate headlines when properly performed. However, for the families of victims, the M.E.’s office often provides answers that allow those grieving to move toward closure.

The legislature, in conjunction with the staff at the M.E.’s office, is in the process of taking action to enable the agency to faithfully perform its duties and fulfill its mission, which is to serve and protect the public health and safety of Oklahomans through the proper and timely scientific investigation of sudden, violent, unexpected and suspicious deaths as a complement to the activities of law enforcement agencies, district attorneys and public health officials.

After a thorough search, the agency has hired a new chief medical examiner with valuable experience and impeccable credentials.

Dr. Eric Pfeifer is the former medical examiner and associate professor at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. His qualifications are first-rate and the Office of the Medical Examiner is on its way to re-establishing a reputation for quality and professionalism.

The agency is developing a strategy to eliminate the backlog of pending cases and to establish a plan to improve and update its facility and equipment.

Legislation has been introduced to modify the board overseeing the M.E.’s office by including a family advocate to provide prospective and input from families affected by tragedy. In addition, term limits for the board would be enacted to protect against indifference and apathy. The measure also seeks to establish an appeals process for families who have additional questions or are not satisfied with the outcome of the investigation. The measure proposes to statutorily identify specific cases that would automatically qualify for an autopsy. Finally, the bill recommends the Medical Examiner be allowed to enlist the help of a director for the administrative aspects of the office, including personnel issues.

These changes are a logical, systematic approach to assist the M.E.’s office in delivering important services in a timely and efficient manner.  The goal is to make Oklahoma’s Office of the Medical Examiner a top-notch entity able to fulfill its role.

The families and friends of those lost to violent crimes deserve nothing less.