WVU Helps State with Forensic Autopsies
Cases in Northern West Virginia Now Completed in Morgantown

West Virginia University is partnering with the West Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Department of Health and Human Resources.  A second state forensic autopsy center began operating out of the WVU Health Sciences Center in early November.   

WVU pathologists will provide forensic autopsy coverage to counties in West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle, Eastern Panhandle and North Central regions. 

Last year, 288 forensic autopsy cases required time-consuming transports from the northern region of West Virginia to Charleston.  All of those cases were handled by one of five state medical examiners in Charleston.    

“The opening of a Northern Region medical examiner office will allow the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to provide more timely medical examiner services to all West Virginia counties,” said James Kaplan, M.D., the state’s chief medical examiner. 

This new state autopsy center is staffed by Matrina Schmidt, M.D., deputy chief medical examiner for the state and director of autopsy services for WVU.  Dr. Schmidt received her medical degree from the Medical College of Ohio in 2001 and was a pathology resident at West Virginia University.

By law, forensic autopsies must be completed by the state’s Medical Examiner’s Office when the cause and manner of death are unknown and an external cause of death is suspected.  A forensic autopsy is also performed if the state has a vested interest in documenting the cause and manner of death for legal reasons, or there is a compelling public health or safety issue involved. 

The WVU facility also has the resources to insure that any evidence collected during a forensic autopsy is handled in the proper fashion, under the direction of the state Medical Examiner’s Office in Charleston.

The new agreement with the state also allows WVU pathology residents the opportunity to work on forensic autopsy cases.  Participating in autopsies is a necessary component of pathology residency training. 

“In the past, we had to send students to Pittsburgh or to Charleston to get this type of experience, since performing autopsies is a core function of being a pathologist,” said Barbara Ducatman, M.D., professor and chair of the WVU School of Medicine Department of Pathology.  

“In the future, we hope to work with students in the WVU Forensic Science program to strengthen their understanding of forensic autopsies,” Dr. Ducatman said.


- WVU -

For more information:
Emily Corio, HSC News Service, (304) 293-7087
ec: 12-13-07

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