Medical Examiner Joyce deJong gave her first annual ME’s report to Barry County Commissioners Tuesday prefacing it by saying:
“I recognize that this document is full of numbers, tables and charts. It is not lost on us that each number represents the death of a person, someone who was possibly a parent, grandparent, spouse, child, relative or friend to others. The deaths also represent a loss to the community as well, and we keep that in mind when dealing with the families.”
Barry County contracted with Western Michigan University Office of the Medical Examiner (commonly shortened to WMed) for medical examiner services in 2017 in what, “I think was a pretty smooth transition,” she said. “Things are going well with Barry County.”
The pathology staff at WMed includes deJong and deputy examiners; five medical doctors, a specialist in neuropathology and a forensic anthropologist. WMed serves a dozen counties including Barry and provides consulting services in forensic anthropology to other communities in Michigan and Indiana.
Accredited by the National Association of Medical Examiners, de Jong is proud to say they make their reports available to law enforcement, public health, families and others in an average of 30 days, when the accreditation call for reports in 60 days.
ME’s are called to investigate deaths due to violence, non-natural, unexpected or unexplained deaths, deaths of infants and children, due unusual or suspicious circumstances, a possible threat to public health, a person in a county or city jail, or those not under the care of a physician.
Generally, autopsies are conducted if it is necessary to determine cause, manner of death, to document injuries or disease or collect evidence.
Each county has several Medical Examiner Investigators who respond to nearly all deaths. The MEI is trained to recognize the vast majority of the deaths requiring postmortem examinations and, in those cases, immediately arranges for transport to WMed for a postmortem examination.
Homicides, infant deaths, and drug overdoses are examples of the deaths that are immediately sent. If it doesn’t appear to require for postmortem exam, the MEI contacts the on-call medical examiner to discuss the case before releasing the body to a funeral home. The MEI writes a report with photos that is reviewed by the ME or Deputy ME.
The statistics in the report are from the county where the person was pronounced dead, not necessarily where they lived, deJong said.
A total of 390 people died in Barry County in 2018; 67 percent were cremated. One hundred forty six deaths were reported to an ME, 25 required a complete autopsy. Forty-four Gift of Life referrals were made. Nine people died from suicide in 2018, eight men and one woman; five were between 18-64 and three 65 or over.
There were two homicides by firearm last year and 21 died of accidental injuries. Of the five drug related deaths in 2018, four were accidental and one indeterminate, all males from 39 to 58 years old. Other counties have a larger problem with drug deaths, which doesn’t seem to be related to population size, deJong said.
The MEs office takes part in each county’s Child Death Review team meetings, issue cremation permits and has a high referral rate to the Gift of Life.