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  • Medical Examiner

    Mission

    The mission of the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner-Forensic Science Center is to provide accurate, timely, compassionate and professional death investigation services for the citizens of Pima County, Arizona.

    Services

    Core Functions

    • Postmortem examinations
    • Screen deaths for public health significance
    • Forensic Anthropology/Dentistry services
    • Certify death certificates prior to cremation
    • Approve organ/tissue for donation or transplant in cases under OME jurisdiction
    • Courtroom testimony
    • Disaster response
    • Teaching services

    Our Doctors

    • Dr. Gregory Hess, Chief Medical Examiner
    • Dr. Eric Peters, Deputy Chief Medical Examiner
    • Dr. Cynthia Porterfield
    • Dr. David Winston
    • Dr. Veena Singh
    • Dr. Jennifer Gardetto

    Frequently Asked Questions

    1. What hours are you open?

    Our office is open to the general public 8 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday, except major holidays. After hours, calls to the office are routed to an answering service and are limited to those individuals or agencies reporting a death.

    2. Where is the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner (OME) located?

    The Office of the Medical Examiner is located at 2825 E. District Street, Tucson, Arizona 85714 within the University Medical Center - South Campus complex immediately south of the Abrams Public Health Center. The OME main telephone number is 520-243-8600.

    3. Why is a body brought to the Medical Examiner's Office?

    Arizona law (ARS 11-593) requires that certain deaths be reported to OME. Upon the reporting of a death, a medical examiner investigator will determine whether jurisdiction will be accepted. If jurisdiction is accepted, the body will be transported to OME for autopsy or external examination.

    4. Will acceptance of a case by the Medical Examiner's Office mean that organ or tissue donation cannot take place?

    No. The Medical Examiner's Office works closely with local organ and tissue procurement organizations to ensure that these anatomical gifts occur whenever possible. Our staff will coordinate with personnel from these organizations to maximize the chance of organ and tissue recovery.

    5. How is the body transported to the Medical Examiner?

    A Forensic Medical Investigator or a contracted transport agent will retrieve the decedent from the scene of the death. The Medical Examiner pays directly for these services and it is not the responsibility of the family.

    6. My loved one has died and he/she has been brought to the Medical Examiner's Office. What should I do now?

    First, you need to select a funeral home and notify the funeral director that the death is being handled by OME. The legal next of kin must also sign a release form at the funeral home authorizing OME to release the body to the selected funeral home.

    7. What is an autopsy?

    An autopsy is a systemic examination of the body of a deceased person by a licensed physician. At the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office, this physician is a trained Forensic Pathologist. The body is examined externally and internally for presence of disease or injury and appropriate specimens of vital organs and/or bodily fluids are retained for microscopic, chemical, or other tests. These tests are performed following conclusion of the examination and do not delay the release of the body to the next of kin. An autopsy examination does not preclude a viewing by the family at the funeral home.

    8. Is an autopsy required?

    No. The decision to perform an autopsy is made by the forensic pathologist on call. An autopsy is not normally performed when the death is known to be a result of natural causes, sufficient medical history exists and there are no signs of foul play. Many deaths investigated by the Medical Examiner's Office that are not ultimately autopsied are deaths when an individual has no personal physician who is available or willing to sign his/her death certificate. The Pima County Medical Examiner's Office currently autopsies between 60 and 70% of individuals whose deaths are investigated.

    9. Are all individuals autopsied?

    No. The legal next-of-kin should voice an objection to an autopsy with the Medical Examiner's Office by calling 520-243-8600 as soon as possible. The Medical Examiner's Office is sensitive to the religious and cultural needs of families and will seriously consider any objection to the procedure. Nevertheless, in many cases an autopsy is mandated by the circumstances of the death and we will be unable to comply with the family's request.

    10. Is it necessary for me to identify the body at the Medical Examiner's Office?

    No. In the vast majority of cases, identification has been confirmed prior to the arrival of the deceased at OME. Occasionally, we will request a family member to come to our facility when the remains are those of an unidentified person. An immediate family member may request an identification meeting.  At such meeting, viewing of photographs or distinguishing marks of the deceased will be performed with the purpose of establishing or confirming identity. Identification meetings will occur within forty-eight hours, excluding weekends and legal holidays.(ARS 11-597.01)

    11. May I view my loved one at the Medical Examiner's Office?

    Viewing of decedents at the Medical Examiner's Office is reserved for those individuals whose identity has not yet been confirmed. Please contact the funeral home that you have selected to arrange for any other viewing.

    12. Is there a charge for a Medical Examiner autopsy?

    No. The cost for autopsies performed at OME are paid for by our tax dollars.

    13. When will the body be released from the Medical Examiner's Office?

    Nearly all individuals are available for release within 24 – 48 hours after arrival. Occasionally, a body may need to be held longer than this to allow for additional forensic testing or for other special procedures necessary to confirm the identity of the deceased.

    14. How can I retrieve my loved one's personal property?

    The deceased's personal property will be released to the funeral home that you have selected. In some cases, personal possessions are released to an investigating law enforcement agency as evidence.

    15. If we have no money for burial, to whom can we turn for assistance?

    The Pima County Public Fiduciary's Office may be able to assist families with financial limitations. They can be reached at 520-740-5454.

    16. With whom may I speak about the death?

    You may contact OME at 520-243-8600 and ask to speak to a medical investigator between the hours of 8 AM and 5 PM, Monday through Friday, except major holidays.

    17. Can I obtain a copy of the autopsy report?

    Yes. Arizona law states that medical examiner autopsy reports are public records. A completed autopsy report may not be immediately available particularly in cases in which there is an on-going police investigation. Non-family members may incur a nominal charge for copies.

    18. How long does it take to receive an autopsy report?

    Most autopsy reports are completed and are generally available to the public within 6 to 8 weeks. In certain cases, particularly those that require extensive additional testing, this may take significantly longer.

    19. Why is it taking so long to get results?

    While the actual autopsy rarely takes longer than a few hours, the follow-up analysis, studies, tests, and consultations may take several weeks. Following the completion of the autopsy, the findings must be dictated, transcribed, proofread, and then signed. Additional studies such as toxicology , histology (microscopic analysis) and microbiology cultures are not done on site and are sent out to a contracted forensic laboratory. When completed, materials are returned for interpretation and are incorporated into the final results.

    20. Where do I obtain a copy of the death certificate?

    Copies of death certificates can be requested through your funeral director. Alternatively, you may call Pima County Vital Records at 520-243-7930.

    21. If the cause and/or manner of death of my loved one is "pending", how can I initiate getting my financial affairs in order (insurance, Social Security, etc…)?

    If further information is needed by an insurance company or others in order to settle estates or other business matters, the Medical Examiner's Office will work directly with those entities to answer any concerns. Vital Records (520-243-7930) or your selected funeral home will be able to provide you with a copy of the pending death certificate if proof of death is all that is needed. If you continue to experience problems with your insurance company regarding a "pending" death certificate, please contact us and we will do our best to help move along the process. While the cause of death may be clearly evident at the time of autopsy or shortly thereafter from the follow-up studies, the manner of death may require additional consultation. The circumstances of the death are paramount in deciding whether the manner of death is homicide, accident, suicide, or natural. Inquiries into the law enforcement and medical communities and gathering of their reports important for manner of death determination takes additional time.

    22. I am very interested in getting into the field of forensics. Do you offer internship opportunities?

    Yes, but the only opportunities offered at the Office of the Medical Examiner at the present time are for those in residency programs in Pathology and for Ph.D. candidates in Forensic Anthropology. While we appreciate the intense interest in the field, most recently popularized by a multitude of television programs, privacy of our decedents remains our greatest concern.

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    Office of Medical Examiner

    2825 E. District St.
    Tucson, AZ 85714

    (520) 724-8600


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