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Deputy medical examiners could get more pay with bill

February 09, 2007|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - The fee for people who investigate unusual deaths in Maryland could rise under a bill considered Thursday by a state Senate committee.

The state pays deputy medical examiners, who must be physicians, $80 per case.

A bill proposed by Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, would make the fee a budget item instead of a law, allowing the rate to easily be raised.

"We need to be able to pay an appropriate amount to get people who are able to do this," said Dr. David Fowler, Maryland's chief medical examiner.

Complaints from Dr. Edward W. Ditto III, a deputy medical examiner in Washington County for more than 50 years before he retired, prompted Munson's bill.

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"Dr. Ditto has been coming to me for probably five years, saying, 'Look, I just can't afford to do this job anymore,'" Munson said.

Fowler said his office probably will try for a $20-per-call increase.

Last year, the state also started giving deputy medical examiners $10 each time they're called, but don't need to respond, and giving physicians $25 for each death certificate they write.

Washington County has one deputy medical examiner. Each Maryland county must have at least one.

Washington County has four forensic investigators and two in training, said Shirl Walker, an administrative assistant in Fowler's office.

The compensation for those who deliver dead bodies to Baltimore for autopsies has not changed.

Thomas E. Wetzel Sr. and his business, Kerfoot Livery Service, stopped picking up bodies in Washington County on July 31, 2006.

Wetzel was upset that the state hadn't given body-collection companies a raise in 10 years, despite rising fuel, labor and insurance costs.

The state paid companies $1.75 per mile to Baltimore; the return trip is not covered.

The rate went up to $2 per mile on July 1, but Wetzel said that wasn't enough. A month later, he ended his company's service after 38 years.

Fowler said after Thursday's Senate Finance Committee hearing that he tried to raise the rate to $2.50 per mile, but the increase was cut from his budget.

Wetzel's anger hasn't subsided.

"Dr. Fowler's only concern is the new medical examiner's office being built in Baltimore," he said.

Without Kerfoot Livery Service, there were several times when a dead body lay for hours before a collection service got there, Fowler said, calling it "a learning experience" for those who took over.

One removal service has handled most of Washington County's body-collection calls in the last six months, he said, but at least twice, someone from Baltimore had to respond.

On the Web at mlis.state.md.us: SB 119

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