Medical examiner shortage delaying La Crosse County death cases

The La Crosse County Medical Examiner’s Office has dealt with more than 20 cases involving an autopsy this year.

Officials said fewer people are pursuing careers as a medical examiner or a forensic pathologist.

“We investigate any death that is outside the hospital,” said Tim Candahl, chief medical examiner of La Crosse County.

A staff of seven handles every single case.

“You are looking at car accidents, anyone who passes away in their house who’s not on hospice, we have to do a definite investigation,” Candahl said.

He said those cases are stacking up.

“Last year we were at 530 cases and today we are at 302,” Candahl said.

With so many cases, families are left waiting to bury their loved ones.

“The families go into another cycle of grieving,” Candahl said. “That’s a long time to be waiting for answers.”

He’s says the nation is seeing a shortage of medical examiners and professionals who perform autopsies.

“There’s a shortage of forensic pathologists in the country.”

The shortage is causing delays when an autopsy report is needed.

“An average backlog last year has taken us anywhere from four to seven months to get reports back,” Candahl said. “Our case level jumped 23 percent last year and that’s just our caseloads.”

He said part of the reason is people are not lining up to become a forensic pathologist.

“I was told there are about 15 a year who come out of school to become a forensic pathologist,” Candahl said.

With drug addiction increasing it creates more cases and investigators can’t keep up.

“That’s why there is such a big case backup load because obviously with all of the opioid use going on right now, it’s putting a huge strain on all medical examiners’ offices, local and statewide,” Candahl said.

He said the job is not what crime TV shows make it look.

“A case can take anywhere from five to 12 hours of paperwork and scene investigation,” Candahl said.

The people who do it have to have the right mindset.

“Most of the people who do this job do it for the families and it’s a unique job,” Candahl said.