Office of The Medical Examiner
In December of 2016, Joyce L. deJong, DO, from the Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M. D. School of Medicine (WMed) was designated as the Medical Examiner for Grand Traverse, Benzie and Leelanau Counties effective January 1, 2017. Dr deJong and the WMed Pathology team will provide medical examiner services for all three counties.
What services are provided by the Office of the Medical Examiner?
The Office of the Medical Examiner investigates deaths that are of concern to the public health, safety, and welfare of the community. Deaths reported to our office are investigated and in many cases the investigation includes a postmortem examination. The postmortem examination is usually a complete autopsy; however in some cases the examination may be limited to the external surfaces. The extent of the examination is determined by the Medical Examiner according to standards established by the National Association of Medical Examiners. All examinations are conducted by board-certified forensic pathologists who have completed advanced training in their area of expertise.
An autopsy is ordered by the Medical Examiner to determine the cause and/or manner of death, to answer additional questions about the death and often to collect evidence. The exams may of value to identify inherited or familial diseases that may lead to early diagnosis and treatment of other family members. The procedures often provide crucial evidence to criminal justice agencies. Information regarding a death is often important for insurance claims, work-related compensation, or other death benefits. The Medical Examiner’s Office must accurately identify decedents under their jurisdiction.
Each decedent is treated with dignity and respect, and families are supported with compassion, courtesy, and honest information to help them with their grief and to make appropriate arrangements. When a postmortem exam is ordered by the medical examiner there is no charge to the family, it is paid for by the county in which the death occurred.
In most cases the autopsy is performed on the day of or the day following death. Generally the cause and manner of death can be determined shortly after the procedure. However, there are cases in which additional testing is required and the cause and manner of death may remain pending until a final determination is made. The final report may take two months to prepare due to detailed studies performed. In rare cases, the report may take more than two months.
What law gives authority to a Medical Examiner to order a postmortem examination?
The Michigan Medical Examiner Statutes, ACT 181, P.A. 1953, as amended and the Michigan Public Health Code, Act 368, P.A. 1978, as amended; mandate that certain types of death be referred to the medical examiner for investigation. Deaths that come under the jurisdiction of the Medical Examiner’s Office include, but are not limited to, sudden and unexpected deaths, accidental deaths, and violent deaths. The medical examiner has the authority under these Acts to order an autopsy at any time it is deemed necessary to determine or confirm the cause and manner of death, or comply with other statutory requirements.
Release of Remains
The next-of-kin will need to authorize a funeral home to obtain the body after the Medical Examiner's Office completes their examination. Family members should select and promptly contact a funeral home.
A copy of the report can be requested by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, by calling the Office of the Medical Examiner at 269-337-6173, or by completing the Request For Autopsy Report form and faxing it to at 844-337-6001. It is important to note, reports are not sent automatically to the family. They must be requested. Please allow 60-90 days for completion and distribution of reports. You may want to review the results with a physician, if you do not have a physician, the medical examiner will review it with you.
The complete record regarding the death of your loved one is maintained by the Office of the Medical Examiner. Information in the record includes the investigative report, toxicology and postmortem examination reports. The report describes the findings of the forensic pathologist including disease processes and any injuries found.
A life insurance company may accept a death certificate as proof of death, however, when a postmortem examination is conducted by the medical examiner, the insurance company may request a copy of the report. You may refer the insurance company to our office if that is the case. Most insurance companies are aware the autopsy report may take up to three months to complete.
Important Notice Regarding Retention of Organs
Certain instances may call for the medical examiner to retain one or more organs so that special tests or examinations may be conducted to determine the cause, manner, and circumstances of death. Sometimes, the organ (such as brain, heart, eyes, or others) may need to be kept even though the deceased body has been released to a funeral home. When this occurs, the funeral and burial or cremation may take place before the examination of the retained organ is complete. In such cases, the organ will be retained for a minimum of 90 days. If no request is made by the family to obtain the organ, disposition will then be made. Disposition will be facilitated by appropriate and acceptable medical standards. When an organ is retained by the medical examiner, it is office policy to indicate in the autopsy report that the organ has been retained. It is the responsibility of the legal next-of-kin to contact the medical examiner if return of the organ is desired. In such cases, the return can be coordinated with the designated funeral director. Organs are retained only when necessary to facilitate proper examination. Normally, no whole organs are retained.
FOR FUNERAL DIRECTORS
When delivering a body for an examination, the transporter should call 844.337.6001, ext. 112. If delivery occurs outside of our normal business hours (8 AM – 5 PM), please call at least 30 minutes before arrival to make certain an attendant will arrive to let you into the facility. If you are picking up a body, you must provide us with an Authorization for Release Form.
Click on these links to access the Authorization for Release Form and Directions to the Office of the Medical Examiner for Funeral Directors.
• Ensure that a death certificate signed by a physician is included with the cremation permit.
• Fax cremation permits to 1-844-337-6001.
• Cremation permits will be reviewed by the Medical Examiner two times a day, Monday-Friday:
*Cremation permit requests received by 9:00 AM will be returned between 10:30 AM and 11:00 AM
*Cremation permit requests received by 2:00 PM will be returned between 3:15 PM and 3:45PM
• The majority of cremation permits are authorized. These will be faxed back to you at the hours listed above.
• If the cremation permit requires additional investigation, you will be notified at the same time as the cremation permits are returned to you within 24 to 48hrs.
• You can help us help you by avoiding delays in cremation permit authorizations due to additional investigation requirements by notifying us immediately for DEATHS THAT HAVE NOT BEEN REPORTED TO OUR OFFICE that include:
*A broken bone/fracture as a cause or contributory cause of death
*A fall or accident listed as a cause or contributory cause of death
*Anything with intracranial hemorrhage
*Anything that mentions medication overdose or toxicity
*Anything that has the cause of death as asphyxia/anoxia/respiratory failure/ cardiac arrest WITHOUT another associated diagnosis
-Asphyxia or Anoxic Encephalopathy due to Stroke or Myocardial Infarct is acceptable
-Asphyxia or Anoxic Encephalopathy or Respiratory Failure or Cardiac Arrest without an underlying cause will not be accepted
*There are others, but the list above covers most situations that trigger additional investigation and a delay in authorization of the cremation
• If you are notified the cremation permit request has triggered additional investigation, expect up to a 48 hour delay in authorization. In these situations, we typically request medical records. We then wait for the physician’s office or the hospital to produce the records. After they send them to us, we review and determine whether an examination of the body is required. If the additional investigation requires more than 48 hours, you will be notified. This would be an exceptionally unusual situation.
• If you faxed a cremation permit Monday-Friday before 9 AM and you do not hear from our office by 12 noon, or you faxed a cremation permit before 2 PM and you have not heard from us by 4:30 PM, call the main office number (269) 337-6173.
Avoiding Delays in Cremation Permit Authorizations
You can help us help you by avoiding delays in cremation permit authorizations due to additional investigation requirements by notifying us immediately for DEATHS THAT HAVE NOT BEEN REPORTED TO OUR OFFICE that include:
• Broken bone/fracture
• A fall or accident
• Intracranial hemorrhage
• Medication overdose or toxicity
• Asphyxia/anoxia/respiratory failure/ cardiac arrest WITHOUT another associated diagnosis
*Asphyxia or Anoxic Encephalopathy due to Stroke or Myocardial Infarct is acceptable
*Asphyxia or Anoxic Encephalopathy or Respiratory Failure or Cardiac Arrest without an underlying cause will not be accepted
• There are others, but the list above covers most situations that trigger additional investigation and delay in authorization of the cremation by our office.
If you are notified the cremation permit request has triggered an investigation, expect up to a 48 hour delay in authorization. In these situations, we typically request medical records. We then wait for the physician’s office or the hospital to produce the records. After they send them to us, we review and determine whether an examination of the body is required. If the additional investigation requires more than 48 hours, you will be notified, however, this should be a very unusual situation.
If you faxed a cremation permit Monday-Friday before 9 AM and you do not hear from our office by 12 noon, or you faxed a cremation permit before 2 PM and you have not heard from us by 4:30 PM, call the main office number (269) 337-6173.