The Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner's Office (MCMEO) mission is to provide county morgue and medical examiner/forensic pathology services to the citizens of Mecklenburg County, and consultation and forensic pathology services to five regional counties; Anson, Cabarrus, Cleveland, Gaston and Union. Three board certified Forensic Pathologists are responsible for overseeing each death investigation conducted at the facility, totaling approximately 1300 annually. The MCMEO interacts with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to assist in these investigations. In addition the Forensic Pathologists provide expert testimony in court reporting their findings on the cause and manner of death. The office also links with the Mecklenburg County Health Department for purposes of disease monitoring.
Medical Examiner Jurisdiction
NC State General Statues outline jurisdiction and responsibility for Medical Examiners that operate within the State system. These statutes can be viewed here. The MCMEO is primarily responsible for death investigations under these specific circumstances:
- Natural deaths in individuals without a physician
- Unexpected deaths in otherwise healthy individuals
- All accidental, suicidal, homicidal, traumatic or violent deaths
- Deaths occurring under unusual circumstances
- Deaths of all prisoners as well as all patients in a state mental health facility
- Autopsy – The anatomic dissection and examination of a body to determine cause of death. An autopsy is an intricate post-mortem medical procedure often requiring complex laboratory tests. It includes examination of all major organs to document injury and/or disease. Decision to perform an autopsy is outlined in NC General Statutes GS 130A-389 and is ultimately at the discretion of the Medical Examiner. During autopsy, blood and tissue samples are obtained and sent for toxicology testing and histology (conversion of tissue samples to microscopic slides for examination by the Pathologist)
- External – The external viewing of a body to validate documented circumstances surrounding the death. Medical records and police reports are reviewed in conjunction with the external exam to determine cause and manner of death. In most cases, blood samples are obtained and sent for toxicology testing.
- Cremation Viewing – Any decedent whose family chooses cremation, under state law may require a viewing by a Medical Examiner to authorize the cremation.
- Storage –Storage may be provided for decedents who do not fall under Medical Examiner jurisdiction while the family makes funeral or cremation arrangements. Storage is free of charge for the first 10 days from the date of death. The family will be charged a storage fee of $50 per day thereafter.
Time Frames and Expectations
- The MCMEO makes every effort possible to complete cases in a timely manner. Once a body is received, it is typically available for release to a funeral home or cremation service within 24 – 48 hours, unless there are extenuating circumstances requiring additional examination or investigative process.
- The timeline for obtaining reports can take three to four months in many cases. It is important that families are aware of these times, and understand it often takes that long to complete death investigations in a thorough manner. However, in many cases the investigation and documents are completed in less time.
Insurance Claims Assistance
There is the possibility an insurance company will not accept a death certificate with a “Pending” cause. In this situation, the MCMEO may be able to provide a letter satisfying the requirements of the insurance company. The family or beneficiary will need to contact the claim representative to determine what information is needed.
- Often due to financial reasons or other difficult circumstances, family members are not able to provide burial or cremation services. It is possible for a decedent to become “unclaimed”. In this instance, the legal next-of-kin can release the body to OCME/State of NC for disposition. At this point, family members will no longer have legal access to the remains.
- If the decedent is a Medical Examiner case (Autopsy or External), the body will be transported to Raleigh for cremation. The cremains will then be delivered to the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office. After a period of time, the cremains will be transported to the NC Coast for a burial at sea.
- If the decedent is a Storage Case, Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services (DSS) will designate a local funeral home that will either cremate the body or provide a “paupers burial”.
- If a decedent is unidentified or legal next of kin CAN NOT be located by law enforcement, the remains will be held by the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office for an indefinite period of time.