Baltimore, MD—The Maryland Department of Health on Tuesday announced the appointment of Deputy Medical Examiner Pamela E. Southall to serve as Acting Chief Medical Examiner.
As required by law, the appointment was made by the Post Mortem Examiners Commission, which will conduct a national search for a permanent replacement.
Dr. Southall replaces Chief Medical Examiner David R. Fowler, who announced he will retire at the end of the month. MDH anticipates the search to replace Dr. Fowler will take six to nine months.
“We thank Dr. Fowler for 17 years of service and appreciate Dr. Southall stepping in as Acting CME to direct this vitally important office,” said MDH Secretary Robert R. Neall. “Maryland is fortunate to have one of the nation’s leading medicolegal institutions, not only for conducting critical investigative, public health and educational roles, but also for seeking justice for the deceased and assisting loved ones through the process.”
Dr. Southall, a 16-year veteran of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), is a board-certified forensic pathologist. She received a Doctor of Medicine degree from Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, DC and completed a pathology residency at the University of Maryland Medical System in Baltimore.
The OCME is a statewide agency that investigates deaths from injury, homicide, suicide, unusual or suspicious circumstances, or when a person is not attended by a physician at the time of death. The state invested $43 million to open a state-of-the-art OCME facility in Baltimore in 2010 providing the latest forensic technology for the work of medical examiners.
Maryland’s OCME also offers the only forensic medicine education program in the mid-Atlantic region, providing comprehensive training programs to the next generation of pathologists.
“This Office is a model for the nation. Medical examiners from across the country have been trained here,” said Deputy Secretary of Public Health Fran Phillips. “MDH is exceedingly proud of the tremendous work OCME staff does. We look forward to advancing and building upon OCME’s legacy of service and scientific excellence.”
Along with the responsibility of determining the cause and manner of death, the OCME serves a critical public health role by identifying lethal injury trends or infectious diseases that may pose a risk to Marylanders. The work of the OCME also assists with criminal investigations when a death is determined to have been a homicide.
All deaths in Maryland must be recorded with a death certificate that lists the cause and manner of death. When a person is under medical care and dies from natural causes, the attending doctor completes the death certificate. Other cases are referred to the OCME. The criteria for OCME involvement in a death is defined by state law.
In recent years, caseloads at the OCME have increased, primarily due to the opioid epidemic. In 2018, the Office received over 15,000 death referrals from the state’s 23 counties and Baltimore City; from those referrals, it conducted more than 5,700 autopsies. The Hogan Administration and MDH have directed considerable resources to the OCME to keep up with the caseload and assure the highest level of quality and professionalism.
Since 2016, MDH has reallocated a number of resources to provide additional support for the OCME’s caseloads. Medical examiner positions received an average 16 percent salary increase to help with hiring and retention in the office. MDH also repurposed five full-time positions from elsewhere in the Department — two medical examiners, one toxicologist, one autopsy assistant and one forensic investigator.
MDH’s Office of Human Resources hired a dedicated OCME recruiter, who secured part-time agreements with nine new board-certified medical examiners for the office.
MDH’s Office of Preparedness and Response has provided the OCME with technical and infrastructural support by way of grant funding to purchase testing equipment, storage components and electrical work, in addition to providing mass fatality supply donations.