Wayne County touts improvements at troubled medical examiner's office
The Wayne County Medical Examiner’s office has made significant improvements since Wayne State University took over its management last year, according to county officials and some stakeholders who deal with that office.
The county ended a longstanding partnership with the University of Michigan in April 2022 due to ongoing problems at the office, including long wait times for issuing death certificates and cremation permits. Funeral homes and families of the deceased also complained about frequent errors and lack of communication from death investigators.
Since Wayne State took over in September, the office has posted improvements across a variety of metrics, according to Abdul El-Sayed, Wayne County’s director of Health, Human, and Veterans Services.
“So, for example, we brought the cremation permit time [down from] 95 days to less than six days. Over the last three months, it's been 24 business hours,” El-Sayed said. “Which is just, you know, leaps and bounds ahead.”
Other improvements include a reduction in the time it takes for death investigators to arrive on scene from two hours to 20 minutes, as well as operational details that make the office more accessible, according to El-Sayed. “[It’s] just been a much tighter partnership and attention to detail, and a recognition of the opportunity to render a really critical service,” he said.
Stephen Kemp, who runs Kemp Funeral Home and Cremation Services in Southfield, said he’s noticed a major difference in some key areas as well, especially when it comes to the ability to reach and communicate with investigators.
Previously, “They didn't answer the phone,” Kemp said. “The investigators had really, to me, bad attitudes. They would hang up on you and not give you complete information.”
That and overall communication are now “much improved,” Kemp said, adding that turnaround times for documents like death certificates are also significantly better. As for retrieving deceased people from the medical examiner, “My removal staff has told me that process has become a lot more clear, a lot more concise, and a lot easier than it used to be,” he said.
But Kemp added there’s still room for improvement. He noted that the hours for retrieving bodies are still shorter than he would like, and Wayne County remains behind when it comes to technology.
“We can get permits done electronically. But the death certificates that they issue are still on paper, which is kind of antiquated these days,” said Kemp, who noted that other counties he deals with all enter death records electronically now. He also said that cremation permits still take “longer than I’d like,” but acknowledged that “the problems didn't occur overnight, and they can't be fixed overnight.”
Wayne State has a multi-year contract to manage the medical examiner’s office, and El-Sayed expressed optimism that will continue. “We’re very pleased with the partnership that we've been able to build together,” he said. “And we've vastly improved on all of these really, really critical services that we provide.”