TRENTON – Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senate Health Chairman Joseph F. Vitale today announced the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee will hold a hearing to discuss legislative reforms to New Jersey’s medical examiner system, following a published report that found serious failures throughout the system.
“New Jersey’s medical examiners offices have a critical responsibility to investigate and determine the cause and manner of unexpected and suspicious deaths. The report exposed serious problems within the system and detailed disturbing cases that resulted in added anguish for families already suffering unthinkable pain. We are committed to overhauling the system to ensure that it functions effectively, and that there is accountability at every level,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex). “We took action today to provide greater oversight over the local offices by the State Medical Examiner. The hearing is an opportunity to hear from those working in and affected by the system and to examine the additional major reforms that are necessary to best serve the residents of the state.”
“Residents have contact with medical examiners offices only after a tragedy has occurred. We must make sure the system is working effectively so that families get the answers they deserve, that investigations are conducted properly and that justice is served in crime-related deaths,” said Senator Sweeney. “We will undertake a full review of the system to determine the reforms that are needed, and nothing will be off the table as we work to address the flaws in the system. I want to thank Senator Vitale for taking immediate action to examine this issue so that we are prepared to move on reforms early in the new legislative session.”
An investigative report published last week in The Star-Ledger detailed an overwhelmed, underfunded and dysfunctional medical examiner system, describing cases of lost body parts, potentially innocent people sitting in jail and possible crimes not being investigated. The report also described families facing months-long wait times to learn how their loved ones died and the state turning away two-thirds of the cases referred to it for review.
The Senate approved legislation (S3605) Monday, by a vote of 37-0, to bring local Medical Examiners offices under the regulation of the State Medical Examiners office, requiring that they comply with policies and protocols issued by the State Medical Examiner and provide any case information the State Medical Examiner requests, among other requirements.
The Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens’ Committee hearing to discuss broad reforms will be held Thursday, January 4, 2018, in the Statehouse, Trenton, New Jersey. Time and location to be announced.