Accreditation of Medical Examiner’s Office under the microscope

Former on-call RI pathologist pleads no contest to official misconduct in another state.

Target 12: Accreditation of Medical Examiner’s Office under the microscope »

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Rhode Island Medical Examiner’s office saw its full accreditation by a national organization downgraded, citing deficiencies in the time it takes to issue reports, The Target 12 Investigators have learned.

The National Association of Medical Examiners notified the Rhode Island Office of the State Medical Examiner (OSME) in June that they were being given a “provisional” accreditation after an April inspection flagged issues. State officials say they have until December to rectify the problems. If the state does not live up to the standards in the next inspection they will be stripped of accreditation.

Michael Raia, the Communications Director for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services – which oversees medical examiner’s office – said the inspection found “the OSME must improve its report turn-around time and staffing for investigations.”

“We are currently working on improving report turnaround and staffing for investigations,” Raia said in an email. “Since the April inspection, reclassifications of existing OSME employees have been put in place that provide more staffing for investigations which will hopefully rectify this deficiency.”

Asked how long the delay is on investigations at the medical examiner’s office, Christina Batastini – Chief Officer of Health Promotion at the Department of Health – said 78 percent of examination reports were completed within 90 days in 2014.

The National Association of Medical Examiners recommends a completion rate of 90 percent within the same time frame.

“At the time of the NAME Inspection in April, the OSME had only [five] Medical Examiner Investigators to triage phone calls and faxes that the OSME receives regarding over 5,000 deaths reported to the OSME each year,” Batastini said in an email.

She said the office is looking to fill an assistant medical examiner’s position and they have reclassified some existing employees “providing slightly more staffing for investigations.”

Raia declined to offer anyone from the Medical Examiner’s office to be interviewed for this report.

On-call pathologist in trouble

The letter to Rhode Island officials came the same month that a former on-call pathologist pleaded no contest to charges in Delaware that he misused state resources for his private business, including work in Rhode Island.

Dr. Richard Callery, the former Chief Medical Examiner of Delaware, entered into a plea agreement with county prosecutors. He has to repay $100,000 to the state of Delaware, he voluntarily gave up his license to practice medicine for two years and will be sentenced in September.

The plea deal was first reported by Delawareonline.com

According to findings by the Delaware State Police, Callery directed Delaware state employees “to perform duties related to his private business” and diverted state equipment and materials for personal gain.

A Target 12 investigation found Rhode Island paid Callery $188,000 from 2008 to 2011 as an outside contractor, flying from Delaware to perform autopsies as an on-call pathologist.

Records provided by the RI Department of Health indicate he performed 173 autopsies in that time.

According to financial records obtained by Target 12 through a public records request, Callery was paid $1,100 per autopsy, $300 a day for being on call, $400 for crime scene visits, $300 for “external reviews” and other compensation for reviewing paperwork.

Target 12 also discovered Callery was working for Rhode Island when he inspected the medical examiner’s office as part of the accreditation process in 2008.

A call to Callery’s lawyer was not returned.

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter: @TimWhiteRI

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