BY JIM DOOLEY – The city has been trying unsuccessfully for years to hire a new director of the Medical Examiner’s Department, but the position has stayed vacant even though its salary has been bumped to $200,016 to attract qualified applicants.

The National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) cancelled the department’s certification here in 2010 because a qualified forensic pathologist was not heading the office.

After the retirement of the last such qualified professional, Dr. Kanthi DeAlwis, the city promoted a deputy in the office, Dr. William Goodhue, to be acting director of the department.

But Goodhue did not meet NAME’s certification criteria, so the organization downgraded Honolulu’s certification.

Then Goodhue retired last September, leaving the office not just uncertified but seriously short-staffed.

Now a retired investigator from the prosecutor’s office, who has no medical training, is calling himself acting director of the department. (see related story)

A new forensic pathologist has been hired here but the city is still recruiting a qualified Chief Medical Examiner and a deputy, said Managing Director Douglas Chin.

In the meantime, both DeAlwis and Goodhue have been performing autopsies under contracts with the city.

Dr. William Goodhue

They are paid $600 per case – a fee that Chin said is “about 1/3 of the cost paid by other coroner systems in the State of Hawaii.”

In the fiscal year that ended last month, DeAlwis was paid $129,600 and Goodhue received $96,400, according to Chin.

“Both doctors in addition to performing autopsies have provided professional consultation (in-person office and off-hours by phone all-hours) to staff, created reports, and testified in court when necessary at no additional cost to the City,” said Chin.

The office has continued to be operated under NAME standards and once a forensic, board-certified chief medical examiner is hired, the city intends to re-apply for full certification, Chin said.

The problem in recruiting has been an acute national shortage of such individuals.

There are only approximately 500 Forensic Board Certified Pathologists in the U.S.,” said Chin. In Hawaii, the number is four.

“Consequently,” said Chin, “the recruitment and retention of Forensic Board Certified Pathologists are contested among Medical Examiner or Coroner offices in the U.S.

“There are not enough certified forensic pathologists to support the 2,000 or more Medical Examiner or Coroner offices in the country,” said Chin

“Presently, there are 68 NAME-accredited Medical Examiner or Coroner offices in 38 states out of about 2,000 Medical Examiner or Coroner offices in the United States.” he said.

Asked the status of the search for a new department head, Chin said, “the recruitment and selection of a Chief Medical Examiner is ongoing.”

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Jim Dooley joined the Hawaii Reporter staff as an investigative reporter in October 2010. Before that, he has worked as a print and television reporter in Hawaii since 1973, beginning as a wire service reporter with United Press International. He joined Honolulu Advertiser in 1974, working as general assignment and City Hall reporter until 1978. In 1978, he moved to full-time investigative reporting in for The Advertiser; he joined KITV news in 1996 as investigative reporter. Jim returned to Advertiser 2001, working as investigative reporter and court reporter until 2010. Reach him at Jim@hawaiireporter.com