Counties explore regional approach to address medical examiner concerns

Warren County

WARREN COUNTY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Area counties continue to search for solutions after a medical examiner who performed autopsies across the Capital Region was barred from performing them at local hospitals for being unvaccinated. While standard Warren County autopsies are being done over an hour away at St. Mary’s in Amsterdam, uncertainty continues over where forensic examinations will take place.

“This is going to affect families, families that are awaiting answers as to what happened to their loved one,” said Don Lehman, a spokesman for Warren County. “We’re going to be at the mercy of a hospital hours away, which already has its own caseloads.”

Rensselaer County Medical Examiner Dr. Michael Sikirica, who did autopsies for counties region-wide, was blocked from hospitals over his vaccination status. That means Warren County and other local counties are working on a regional approach to address the issue.

“The counties have kind of come together and said, ‘Listen, we’ve gotta come up with a way to look at this going forward,” Lehman said. “How are we going to do this?”

Earlier this month, Rensselaer County entered an agreement with Dutchess County to perform medical examiner services in Poughkeepsie, after the county announced it could no longer handle autopsies at either Albany Med or Glens Falls Hospital over their vaccination policies. In a statement, Richard Crist, Director of Operations for Rensselaer County, said:

Rensselaer County was forced to make a quick adjustment due to the state vaccine mandate and the decision by the doctor who had served as medical examiner for years. Thankfully, our relationship with Dutchess County is off to a good start and both counties are working together cooperatively.”

But for Warren County and others, these autopsies could have to be done as far away as Broome or Onondaga County. “That’s a tough situation for a small rural county to have to have our funeral directors or coroners transporting people potentially to Binghamton, Poughkeepsie, or Syracuse,” said Lehman.

Lehman says the county was also exploring using local funeral homes to perform autopsies in, but the State Department of Health turned that option down. “We’re kind of back at the ‘probably have to drive a few hours situation’ right now,” he said.

Lehman added the county could also potentially explore using stimulus funding to try to attract a pathologist to the region.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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