Despite Improvements, L.A. County Coroner Backlog Still Causing Families Pain

The Los Angeles Times has a heartbreaking account of the toll that the L.A. County’s coroner backlog has taken on families of the deceased. Whether their loved ones were lost to suspected overdoses or crime, it’s the not knowing—the all-consuming ambiguity—that leaves them feeling hopeless.

The situation is improving, but perhaps not fast enough.

As of Sept. 21, toxicology and other tests had not been completed on more than 1,500 bodies — an improvement over June, when the figure was 2,100.

The coroner’s office is still running behind the standard established by the National Assn. of Medical Examiners, which says that work should be completed within 90 days in 90% of cases. In 2015, L.A.’s coroner completed 81% within that window; the rate dropped to 78% between June 2015 and June 2016.

Currently, nearly 1,500 cases remain incomplete after 90 days, including roughly 570 that have lingered for more than 150 days.

The department is in the midst of significant efforts to do away with the backlog once and for all, notes to Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran, the interim chief medical examiner. His predecessor, Mark Fajardo, left abruptly earlier this year, saying he was not being given the resources he needed to do his job.

One thing the coroner’s office is doing is hiring 22 new employees, thanks to a $2.5-million budget increase from the Board of Supervisors. But even that takes time.

“By the spring of next year, we should see a dramatic change,” Sathyavagiswaran said. “I wish I could buy my staff at Costco, but I can’t.”