INDIANAPOLIS – According to the Marion County Coroner’s Office, this past weekend, it saw a record number of people who died, needing examinations.
Deputy Chief Coroner, Alfarena McGinty, said, “When we look at a weekend from Friday to Sunday where there were 24 deaths that require examinations and you have five people that are able to assist in performing those examinations, that is difficult.”
McGinty said the office is already facing staffing shortages, which is something she has pushed to resolve for years. You can read more on that by visiting this link.
Coupled with the challenges due to staffing, McGinty said lack of space is a major issue the staff face when they see significant numbers of death investigations they are called to assist with.
“Yesterday we were not even able to get through half of those cases,” she said.
“It’s going to take us nearly the rest of the week to get through the cases we had from the weekend, and the cases we continue to get every day when we average seven to eight cases per day.”
She said the Marion County Coroner’s Office has seen an upward trend in death investigations over the last several years.
On Tuesday, for example, McGinty said they had two deputy coroners on duty, with three death investigations going on at the same time.
She said the significant number of death investigations they are seeing as an office is attributed to several factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic, a drug epidemic, and people dying due to homicidal violence.
“Homicide investigations by and large take up the most time,” said McGinty.
This past weekend, Indianapolis saw another violent few days as five people were shot and killed across the city in several shootings.
McGinty said there are times where deputy coroners are at homicide scenes for several hours, and that doesn’t include the work needing to be done after they leave and head back to the coroner’s office.
An often-thankless job, McGinty said their responsibility to the families of the decedents and citizens of Marion County doesn’t change even when they become overwhelmed. Their priority remains to begin to get answers, bring closure to others, and provide information needed for many families to begin getting their loved ones’ affairs in order.
“No one ever says thank you for telling me my loved one is dead. No one ever says thank you for creating the worst day of my life,” shared McGinty. “We have to remain professional; we have to make sure we are providing enough information for the families to move forward in their grieving process.”
The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, however, does understand the impact felt by the coroner’s office, because they too, are at the scenes of death investigations, including those involving violent crimes committed.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the department has investigated 114 homicides since the start of 2021.
“People are losing their family members, they’re losing loved ones, husbands, children and wives and this is a daily occurrence,” said Samone Burris, Public Information Officer with IMPD.
A reality that both the IMPD and the Marion County Coroner’s Office know well: taking the life of an individual doesn’t just impact the people directly involved, but their families and loved ones, too.
McGinty said it’s important to bear in mind that homicides are just one factor contributing to backlogs and challenges faced by the department.
“While you all see the homicides, you don’t see the other deaths that we attend to for the day,” she said, noting that they typically have seven to eight per day, on average.
Data provided by the Marion County Coroner’s Office shows that over the course of the last five years, their caseload has increased by approximately 44%.
In 2016, the Marion County Coroner’s Office worked on 1,809 cases. That number has drastically increased since. In 2020, they worked on a total of 2,611 cases.
McGinty said the drug epidemic is having a major impact on their office. According to data shared with FOX59, overdoses in Marion County have varied in overall numbers over the last few years, but in 2016, the department worked on 367 cases involving drug overdoses.
In 2020, the department worked on 638 cases involving drug overdoses.
Data shows the presence of fentanyl in toxicology reports of overdose deaths has increased more than 400% between 2016 and 2020, presenting an added risk to staff if it is present on scene.
The pandemic has also added challenges where COVID-positive decedents are involved, or even suspected of having COVID. Of the 24 decedents the office received this past weekend, there was a suspected COVID-positive case.
Because of the need to properly determine the cause and manner of death, McGinty said they are still testing those patients.
Busier than it’s ever been, McGinty said some deputy coroners are working 18-hour shifts, several times per week, to keep up with the workload their office is facing.
“They’re out here doing the work that no one else wants to do, that no one else can do,” she said.