KY justice secretary responds to frustrations from medical examiners

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WKYT) - On Friday morning, March 31st, Dr. Bill Ralston resigned as Kentucky's chief medical examiner. Kentucky's Justice and Public Safety Cabinet sent WKYT's Miranda Combs an email saying, "We have accepted Dr. Ralston's resignation and look forward to reviewing candidates for this open position..." That same evening though, Dr. Ralston was back at the helm as chief medical examiner. Combs asked Justice and Public Safety Secretary John Tilley what happened: "Dr. Ralston and I are talking," Sec. Tilley said. "We've talked multiple times last week. We have a meeting set up to continue working through those issues."

WKYT uncovered funding concerns over the past few months. A lack of staff, including doctors and autopsy technicians were burdening the medical examiner's offices to the point that Kentucky's Coroner's Association sent a certified letter to Sec. Tilley's cabinet wanting fast fixes.

Tilley said much of the problem is the ripple effects from a tidal wave of overdose deaths. "Our medical examiners are inundated with heroin overdose deaths. The frustrations are high and the resources are low," Tilley said.

There should be twelve medical examiners in Kentucky. Right now, the state only has nine. Tilley said it's tough to recruit new ones, the country only produces about 40 medical examiners a year. And to make matters worse, medical examiner pay in Kentucky is one of the lowest in the nation. Tilley said Kentucky is out-bid every time. "We can't find another medical examiner. We've lost them to other states." He said his cabinet has to ask the legislature for more money "and that's a tough issue when there are so many needs," he said. "The budget we are living under was here when we got here." Sec. Tilley went on, "We've got to do a better job of funding these positions. But right now our hands are tied."

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