PHOENIX - Maricopa County is trying to lure doctors specializing in forensic pathology to its understaffed medical examiner's office by offering new hires extra vacation and sick time as soon as they sign on.
The county has lost about a third of its pathologists in the past four years and the shortage has created a slowdown in completed autopsies, which frustrates loved ones hoping for answers about unexplained deaths.
The Arizona Republic reports the county is offering new hires 80 hours of vacation and another 80 hours of sick time as soon as they're hired. The same extra leave is also being given to the nine pathologists now on staff.
The shortage of forensic pathologists is a national problem. The U.S. Department of Justice is working on recommendations for boosting the supply of doctors specializing in autopsies.
County Medical Examiner's office director David Boyer says adding more pathologists is critical to ending delays in completed autopsies.
"It's very critical that we close those (autopsy cases) out for our caseload, but also for the families," said David Boyer, director of the county Medical Examiner's Office. "We're an interruption in the grieving process."
Forensic pathologists investigate causes and manners of deaths.
Cases can take up to 140 days to complete, yet the county's goal is to close 95 percent of its cases in 90 days. Currently, 78 percent of cases are meeting the 90-day goal, Boyer said. Delays in obtaining reports also can prolong the process for families to resolve estate and financial matters.
A county medical examiner earns from $152,000 to $174,000, county payroll records show.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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