Dr. Ritze praises improvement at Medical Examiner’s office, Rep. Grau praises new chief

State Rep. Mike Ritze of Broken Arrow this week praised the hiring of Dr. Eric Pfeifer as the new Chief Medical Examiner of the state of Oklahoma, characterizing the decision as the latest improvement at the troubled agency. Rep. 

“The hiring of Dr. Pfeifer shows a new commitment to professionalism at the agency, and the board is to be commending for selecting him,” said Ritze, a Republican and one of two medical doctors in the state House.

 Dr. Ritze, a former Deputy Medical Examiner and Forensic Science University Professor, said the Office of the Medical Examiner has taken other steps in recent months to improve its performance.

 Ritze said, “As the Vice Chairman of the House Public Safety Subcommittee of the Appropriations and Budget Committee, I was tasked with heading legislative oversight of the agency, and I am very pleased with the actions taken over the last six months.”

 Ritze said the agency’s recent accomplishments include the following:

 •                reducing the backlog of unfinished cases from about 1,200 to 600 during the second half of 2010 (the agency’s goal is to eventually achieve an industry normal baseline of about 200 cases awaiting completion);

 •                Bringing a national leader in forensic pathology (John Howard, MD) to consult on policies, process, infrastructure, and leadership;

 •                hiring a qualified, experienced human resources administrator late Summer 2010;

 •                making important and needed personnel changes through terminations, demotions, hires, and promotions (with identified savings of $400,000 so far);

 •                receiving favorable attention from applicants for two (soon to be three) forensic pathologist positions;

 •                scheduling meetings between the interim chief medical examiner and collaborators in the central division to repair relationships and establish meaningful communication;

 •                renegotiating the body transport contract for the Eastern Division with substantial cost savings;

 •                appointing an interim chief administrative officer;

 •                posting and receiving nearly 50 applications for the Chief Administrative Officer position;

 •                continuing functional relationship for financial services with Office State Finance instead of hiring an Agency budget officer / controller; and

•                completing a quantitative analysis of rural death investigator caseload across the state to support a new policy analysis. At the same time, Ritze said the Board of Medicolegal Investigations can boast of the following accomplishments:

 •                appointing and retaining an interim Chief Medical Examiner as an effective leader for OCME since June 2010;

 •                interviewing four qualified applicants for Chief Medical Examiner;

 •                providing expertise, upon request of interim CME, for assistance in developing agency policies;

 •                providing expertise, upon request of interim CME, for assistance in reviewing, interviewing, and making recommendations for the hiring of a chief administrative officer;

 •                providing board representation at five settlement hearings in federal court in Tulsa for EEOC claims against Agency and Board and settling three of those cases;

 •                maximizing Dr. Sibley’s talents – he is fulfilling 50 percent of the forensic pathology caseload in the Eastern Division, splitting that load with his sole colleague;

 •                working to obtain and utilize grants from FEMA to construct new facilities and equipment at the OUMC Campus for the Medical Examiners Office in conjunctions with the state Health Department (the largest recipient of ME reports), which could result in potential savings of millions of dollars for the state;

 •                maintaining the ME’s office across the street from the OU Medical Center for free consultations on cases and providing medical students and residents the opportunity to rotate at the ME’s office;

 •                retaining fellowships important for the ME’s office and producing more Forensic Pathologists (there are only 400 Forensic Pathologists in the U.S.);

 •                keeping the ME’s Office independent of law enforcement agencies;

 •                implementing mandatory background checks by OSBI on all employees of the ME’s Office; andincreasing responsiveness and probable efficiency by moving the Eastern Division cremation and out-of-state transportation permits back to Tulsa.

 State Rep. Randy Grau, an Edmond Republican, also praised Dr. Pfeifer’s appointment. In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, Rep. Grau said: 

 “Dr. Pfeifer’s qualifications are impeccable and make clear that the Office of Medical Examiner is undertaking the steps necessary to re-establish a reputation for experience and professionalism at the agency. I applaud Dr. Pfeifer’s hiring and expect he will be instrumental in giving the ME’s office a fresh start in Edmond.”

 Pfeifer previously worked at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and as the Olmsted County coroner in Minnesota.

 Grau and state Sen. Clark Jolley, also an Edmond Republican, have authored legislation, Senate Bill 671, they affirm is intended to reform the Office of the Medical Examiner.

 The legislation renames the agency’s governing board as the Board of Forensic Pathology, allowing for new board members to be named and authorizing the hiring of the new executive director.

 “Our legislation will be crucial in giving the ME’s office a new start by giving it a new name, new board, and a new administrative structure,” Grau said. “I believe it is time to give this agency the tools it needs to serve the citizens of Oklahoma.”

 The Medical Examiner’s office has been wracked by challenges the last several years, and is at the center of a bribery investigation involving state Rep. Randy Terrill. A bipartisan committee is investigating Terrill’s efforts, late in the 2010 legislative session, to direct hiring practices at the agency.
 When news of the bribery scandal surfaced last year, former Governor Brad Henry vetoed two bills that Terrill had been involved in guiding through the legislative process.
NOTE: Editor Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report.