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N.L. government to hire expert to help implement changes in medical examiner’s office

Dr. Matthew Bowes, Nova Scotia’s chief medical examiner, and Justice Minister Andrew Parsons discuss Bowes’ external review of this province’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in August 2016.
Dr. Matthew Bowes, Nova Scotia’s chief medical examiner, and Justice Minister Andrew Parsons discuss Bowes’ external review of this province’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in August 2016. - -File photo

Five months after an external review called for big changes to the province’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), the justice minister says the government is “pretty damn close” to beginning to implement them.

The first step, he said, is to hire an expert to help make the right decisions.

“Given the nature and the scope of the recommendations, we need to bring somebody in to set up an implementation plan,” Parsons told The Telegram when asked about the status.

He said the government will hire a person with the right skill set and proper knowledge in such a highly technical area to help guide the process.

“You can’t come in and say, ‘Yep, we’re going to do it all.’ I mean, the stuff we’re talking about is huge,” Parsons said. “You don’t come in and fix this in a snap of a finger, so we need someone to assist us in bringing it in.”

Parsons launched the review in July 2016 and it was headed by Dr. Matthew Bowes, Nova Scotia’s chief medical examiner.

Bowes’ final report — the results of which were made public in July of this year — concluded there were a slew of problems with this province’s OCME, including inadequate office space and equipment; too few staff, and overworked staff, including Dr. Simon Avis, who is approaching retirement age; an antiquated record system; and many other deficiencies.

It found the state of the OCME was such that it was an accident waiting to happen.

At least one huge mistake had already been made prior to the review.

It was launched after a court case involving the death of an infant, Matthew Rich, was halted and a second-degree murder charge against his father dropped because medical evidence, including Matthew’s brain, had been lost at the medical examiner’s office.

“I fully recognize how critical it is,” Parsons said, “but we can’t just go out and say, ‘boom, not a problem.’ We have to look at an actual implementation that will allow us to bring this in in a proper fashion.

“So, instead of just picking out a couple things which seem easy, we want to make sure there’s an actual plan behind it rather than throwing darts at a board.”

The newly hired position would not be permanent, Parsons said, but someone outside the OCME who has extensive knowledge in the area to help determine the best short- and long-term goals.

“You can’t just bring anybody in to do this. … It’s not like a clerk or solicitor. Nobody within the (OCME) can do this. They simply do not have the resources in their office to do this.”

Parsons would not give a time line as to when the expert would be hired, but said, “we’re very close to making that happen.”

He said the decision about who to hire will be made in consultation with the Public Service Commission and human resources.

While some wonder why there has been such a delay, Parsons said the time it has taken is not unusual.

It’s not something that can be rushed, he said.

“I want to see things done quickly, but I don’t want (to act) in haste,” he said. “We went out and had the report done. It took a fair amount of time and I don’t mind that because if you’re going to do it, you’ve got to do it right.

“We’re going to be making substantive changes to the office, changes that have not been made in decades. I’m actually the first minister to have visited the office in decades. I don’t want to rush this and end up creating a situation where you negate good work.”

Parsons said improving the state of the OCME is a priority, as it will also be key in attracting a replacement for Avis when he eventually retires.

“Finding people with that expertise is something that’s extremely difficult,” said Parsons, who noted Avis in nearing the end of his career.

Parsons said Bowes’ report has shone a light on the importance of the OCME. He said people have to be reasonable with their expectations.

“Anything like this has to be done in a sensible fashion,” he said. “I want it done yesterday, but these are the realities that we face.

“But we’ll get there.”

 

rosiemullaley@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TelyRosie

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