Forensic Pathology Unit Closing As Death Investigations

Forensic Pathology unit closing as death investigations move
Forensic Pathology unit closing as death investigations move
Forensic Medicine/Forensic Medicine & Toxicology

Forensic pathology is being pulled out of Hamilton altogether over the next year and moved to Toronto. By July 15, half of the cases will have already transferred out of the regional unit that does death investigations in Hamilton, Niagara, Haldimand, Norfolk, Brant and Dufferin. All that will be left at Hamilton General Hospital are educational autopsies did to train McMaster University students.

“The community outraged at this,” said David Murphy, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 7800 which represents workers at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS). “The opioid crisis is here and we see the shootings that are happening in Hamilton and the stabbings,” he said. “You’ve got the facilities here, you’ve got the pathologists, why do you have to go to Toronto?”

Demands on forensic pathology

The decision made by Ontario’s chief coroner, Dr. Dirk Huyer; also the province’s chief forensic pathologist, Dr. Michael Pollanen. The move comes six months after Pollanen told Hamilton Spectator reporter Nicole O’Reilly that forensic pathology was not moving out of Hamilton in the wake of a police case; so manager saying his homicide investigation was hampered when the victim’s body was sent to Toronto for autopsy.

But Pollanen says it wasn’t the main reason for shutting down the unit. Moving the services to Toronto along with other modernization measures are expect to reduce costs by about $3 million. “There are ever increasing demands on forensic pathology services,” said Pollanen. They’ve tried to respond to these demands and make those services more sustainable across the whole province.

So in 2013, the $500-million state-of-the-art Forensic Services and Coroners Complex; so open with the latest techniques, including using CT scanning in autopsies; also highly specialize staff such as a forensic anthropologist. “The increase professional capacity, laboratories, and other services will improve turnaround time of reports and other results for the coroners, police, the courts and families,” said Pollanen. “In addition, we can provide more timely data to the public health system about fatalities relate to the opioid crisis.”

Delayed the autopsy

However, quicker turn around was not the experience of Det. Sgt. Peter Thom of the major crime unit who said in December that the decision to send the body of 17-year-old Joshua Leo to Toronto for autopsy hamper the homicide investigation. He said the move delay the autopsy by two days. So hamilton police did not respond to a request for comment Thursday on the decision to move all coroner order autopsies to Toronto by next summer.

Right now, about half of the of the 7,000 coroner order autopsies each year are already in Toronto. So closing Hamilton boosts it to about 4,800. “To me it’s been a power struggle,” said Murphy. Hence they have this new building they want to fill up.” While Murphy says HHS fought the change, both Pollanen and Huyer says it was done in collaboration with the hospital. HHS did not respond to questions Thursday about which is right.

“There are workload pressures in Hamilton right now,” said Pollanen. Hence the caseload exceeds their capacity. Huyer added, “They’re looking to us for assistance in this. This has been an ongoing collaboration for years about how to make the forensic autopsy services more durable and sustainable in Hamilton.”