Sen. Brian Crain said Monday the latest round of personnel upheavals in the state medical examiner’s office point to the need to focus more attention on operations funding. His comments came after reports that the state’s chief medical examiner, Dr. Eric Pfeifer, had recently fired a doctor and two supervisors from the agency.
Crain, who chairs the Senate’s Health and Human Service Committee, said while a lot of attention has been on capital needs, the Legislature must recognize that the issues of the Medical Examiner's Office cannot be resolved without an immediate and sustained commitment to properly funding its operations.
"If we want this agency to continue as a necessary and vital part of law enforcement, the Legislature must first recognize that its operations have been underfunded for several years. This makes it extraordinarily difficult to attract and retain qualified forensic pathologists and other skilled personnel,” said Crain, R-Tulsa. “Secondly, the Legislature must explicitly state our intention to fund this agency at a level sufficient to correct this situation not only for next year but for years to come. Finally, this and future Legislatures must honor this intention.”
The M.E.’s office has been hampered by personnel problems for the past several years, leading to investigations and the ousters of other employees. Crain, a former Tulsa County prosecutor, said while there are structure and equipment issues to be addressed, the need to attract a top-rate staff that will be with the agency for the long-haul must not be overlooked.
“If a prosecutor goes to court to put an accused murderer behind bars based on evidence provided by the state medical examiner’s staff, that DA should have every assurance those findings are coming from the highest level of professionals available in forensic pathology,” Crain said. “The same is true for an Oklahoma family awaiting answers in the death of a loved one. The equipment and facilities are part of the equation, but those are certainly no more important than the level of professional staff working at the agency. That’s something we cannot lose sight of as we work to move this agency forward.”