Oklahoma Medical Examiner's Office Hires New Chief

Monday, March 28th 2011, 10:02 pm
By: News On 6

Jennifer Loren, Oklahoma Impact Team

OKLAHOMA CITY -- A new chief medical examiner has been named to take over the embattled state agency.

The medical examiner's office has been surrounded in controversy for years and the search to find someone willing to take it over has been difficult.

Crystal Brannon is one of the countless Oklahomans forced to wait for answers about her loved one's death. Because of a huge backlog of cases at the medical examiner's office, it took five months to find out why her brother died.

"Why does it take five months to get a report back?" Brannon said.

That was 2007. Today the ME's office still has a backlog of more than 1,000 cases.

"A thousand is too many and our doctors agree," Cherokee Ballard, a spokesperson for the ME's office, said.

But the backlog is just one of the many issues facing the medical examiner's office and its new chief, Dr. Eric Pfeifer.

Pfeifer has been a medical examiner and associate professor at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Ballard says Pfeifer was highly recommended and knows what he's up against.

"He knows everything we're facing. So, the fact that he's willing to come in and help us, we're very grateful," she said.

Beyond the huge backlog, Pfeifer faces the agency's numerous lawsuits, deteriorating facilities, lost accreditation and dwindling funding sources, not to mention the strained working environment created by accusations of sexual harassment.

"We need some direction and we think that this will help us," Ballard said.

She hopes the new director will help recruit new employees to bring closure to Oklahoma families left in limbo.

"I hope that it instills some confidence in some of the families who are waiting for their answers," she said.

The search for a chief medical examiner has been ongoing for more than a year and has taken several dramatic turns. Three different people have been offered the job: one was fired, one offer was rescinded and another offer was refused.

11/19/2010 Related Story: Chief Medical Examiner Nominee Turns Down Offer

Dr. Pfeifer still needs to get an Oklahoma Medical license which could take four to six weeks.