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Utah Office of the Medical Examiner

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For Hospitals

Reporting a Death

If you need to report a death to our office or want to inquire if a death falls under our jurisdiction, please call the central office number (801-816-3850) and you will be connected with an investigator. Deaths that fall under our jurisdiction are dictated by the Medical Examiner’s Act and are as follows:

26-4-7. Custody by Medical Examiner

Upon notification under Section 26-4-8 or investigation by the medical examiner’s office, the medical examiner shall assume custody of a deceased body if it appears that death was:

  1. by violence, gunshot, suicide, or accident (including all motor vehicle deaths);
  2. sudden death while in apparent good health;
  3. unattended deaths, except that an autopsy may only be performed in accordance with the provisions of Subsection 26-4-9(3);
  4. under suspicious or unusual circumstances;
  5. resulting from poisoning or overdose of drugs;
  6. resulting from diseases that may constitute a threat to the public health;
  7. resulting from disease, injury, toxic effect, or unusual exertion incurred within the scope of the decedent’s employment;
  8.  due to sudden infant death syndrome;
  9. resulting while the decedent was in prison, jail, police custody, the state hospital, or in a detention or medical facility operated for the treatment of persons with a mental illness, persons who are emotionally disturbed, or delinquent persons;
  10. associated with diagnostic or therapeutic procedures; or
  11. described in this section when request is made to assume custody by a county or district attorney or law enforcement agency in connection with a potential homicide investigation or prosecution.

Designated Representative (DesRep) cases

If a death falls under the jurisdiction of the Medical Examiner and the patient had been under in-patient medical care for a period of time, the death still needs to be reported to the medical investigator on duty. After discussing the circumstances of the case, the death may be classified as a ‘Designated Representative’ (DesRep) case.

This designation indicates there has been sufficient diagnostic testing for a cause of death to be determined. If death is due to trauma, there will be a query as to the type of injuries and their documentation. The possibility of criminal charges will also be taken into consideration as to whether the body is sent to the OME or not. An OME case number will be assigned but the treating physician will be authorized to complete the death certificate.

Inquiry cases

If a death is reported to the OME and after review the circumstances do not necessitate that the OME assume jurisdiction, the case will be handled as an ‘Inquiry’ by our office.  This may require you to provide at least some basic personal information regarding the deceased as well as information regarding your diagnoses and treatments of the individual.

For Law Enforcement

Records Requests (Law Enforcement)

Requesting Records From the OME

Copies of autopsy reports are available after they are finalized provided a proper request has been submitted. If you attend an examination in person and wish to receive a copy of the final report, please fill out a records request form while you are at the OME. You can submit a request for a ‘Report of Examination’ or photographs at anytime on your agencies letterhead stationery. Requests can be faxed to our office (801-964-1240).

Please include specific mailing instructions or provide your direct email address on any request to expedite your receipt of written materials. Digital photographs are provided on CD’s and can be either picked up in person or mailed to you.

OME Requesting Records From Your Agency

As part of our investigation, we may need to collect your agencies reports. Please respond to these requests in a timely manner. Be aware that some or all of the records received by our office are retained as part of our case file and therefore are subject to release to any person having authorization to request our records.

For Law Enforcement

Viewing an Autopsy

Examinations performed on your jurisdiction’s cases may be attended by those agents directly involved in the investigation of the death. If you wish to attend an examination, please notify the central office ahead of time and we will make every effort to fit our schedule with yours. This is very important if you require extended travel time to reach our facility.

Most exams start after morning report which concludes around 08:45 (cases start at 08:00 on weekends and holidays). If you have not notified us in advance, you may be subject to a period of waiting until we can schedule your case or we may have already finished the exam before you arrive.

Homicides and infant cases have priority as the first cases of the day so rescheduling may be necessary.

The attendance of officers not directly involved in the investigation of the death is discouraged. If this is felt to be a valuable educational experience to their career, please make arrangements a few days in advance and we will try to accommodate you and the trainee attending an exam.

For Law Enforcement

Evidence

Evidence collected during an examination attended by the agency of jurisdiction will be signed over to them at the conclusion of the exam.  Evidence recovered during examinations that are not attended by law enforcement will be held at the OME for a period of time before disposal. 

If you are contacted by the OME regarding evidence on one of your cases please respond promptly.  If you wish to retain the evidence we will need you to come to the OME to sign an evidence release form.  If you do not require this evidence for your investigation, please provide written authorization to the OME on your jurisdiction’s letterhead to dispose of that evidence. 

Your prompt response to our inquiry as to disposition of the evidence is appreciated.

For Law Enforcement

Identification

The proper identification of the deceased is the responsibility of the OME and needs to be correctly established as soon as possible. If your agency has determined the identity of the individual prior to the arrival of our investigator, please inform our investigator of the means by which this identification occurred – visual ID by family member or friend, visual by photo identification card at the scene, tattoos, circumstantial evidence (please clarify), etc.

If identification will be based upon circumstances, distinctive markings (scars, surgeries, tattoos), or the deceased has a criminal record please inform us early on.

If identification will be based upon fingerprint, dental or DNA comparisons, our agencies will coordinate efforts to determine the most efficient means to make a positive identification.

For Law Enforcement

Notification of Next of Kin

The notification of the next of kin is the responsibility of the law enforcement agency. Be advised that the need for OME employees to talk to the NOK prior to the examination is uncommon, however, family members may be approached by organ and tissue agencies wanting to gain permission to recover tissues. Timely notification will make this process easier.

For Law Enforcement

Custody of the Dead Body

26-4-9 Custody of dead body and personal effects — Examination of scene of death — Preservation of body

These guidelines are dictated by the Medical Examiner’s Act 26-4-9:

“(1) Upon notification of a death under Utah Code Section 26-4-8, the medical examiner shall assume custody of the deceased body, clothing on the body, biological samples taken, and any article on or near the body which may aid the medical examiner in determining the cause of death except those articles which will assist the investigative agency to proceed without delay with the investigation.”

“In all cases the scene of the event may not be disturbed until authorization is given by the senior ranking peace officer from the law enforcement agency having jurisdiction of the case and conducting the investigation. Where death appears to have occurred under circumstances listed in Section 26-4-7, the person or persons finding or having custody of the body, or jurisdiction over the investigation of the death, shall take reasonable precautions to preserve the body and body fluids so that minimum deterioration takes place.”

“The body may not be moved without permission of the medical examiner, district attorney, or county attorney having criminal jurisdiction, or his authorized deputy except in cases of affront to public decency or circumstances where it is not practical to leave the body where found, or in such cases where the cause of death is clearly due to natural causes. The body can under direction of a licensed physician or the medical examiner or his designated representative be moved to a place specified by a funeral director, the attending physician, the medical examiner, or his representative.”

“(2) In the event the body, where referred to the medical examiner, is moved, no cleansing or embalming of the body shall occur without the permission of the medical examiner. An intentional or knowing violation of this Subsection (2) is a class B misdemeanor.”

For Law Enforcement

Body Transportation

Following notification of the OME of a death and the subsequent investigation, the OME will make arrangements for the transport of the body from the death scene or medical facility. Transport from the place of death to the OME will be by means of a contracted body transport service or designated funeral home.

Biohazards / Exposures

Bloodborne Pathogen Exposure

Emergency Personnel and Other Job Related Exposures:

If an emergency first responder or job site worker becomes exposed to blood or other bodily fluids from a dead body and that body comes to our facility, the OME will provide autopsy samples from the deceased (exposure source) to the Utah Public Health Laboratory.  The Utah Public Health Laboratory will then conduct Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV testing on these samples.

Following their department’s exposure protocol, the employee’s Health Information Officer  (HIO) or the health care provider currently treating the exposed personnel should contact the OME (801-816-3850) and alert us that there was an exposure as soon as possible so that we collect the necessary samples during our examination.  The HIO or health care provider will also need to complete the Bloodborne Pathogen Exposure Testing Request Form and forward it to the Utah Public Health Laboratory.

The results of these tests will be forwarded to the Department of Epidemiology who will then notify the appropriate party with the results.  HIV & Hepatitis test results may only be released to the health care provider for the exposed co-worker or directly to the “designated health information officer” of the emergency responder’s department. 

AFTER HOURS

If the exposure occurs after regular working hours, the employee may utilize an emergency room for immediate follow-up of an occupational exposure incident.  Follow up should be made as soon as possible with the employer’s Health Information Officer.

Print a copy of the Bloodborne Pathogen Exposure Testing Request Form

Good Samaritans:

If a member of the general public or a family member is exposed to blood or other bodily fluids during lifesaving activities or during cleanup of a death scene they will need to contact their primary care physician.  Their doctor will then do testing on the exposed person(s) they feel is appropriate and initiate any prophylactic steps that they deem necessary.   The physician will also need to complete the Bloodborne Pathogen Exposure Testing Request Form and forward it to the Utah Public Health Laboratory.

Testing will be performed on samples from the decedent for Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV by the serology department of the Utah Public Health Laboratory.  The results are forwarded to the Department of Epidemiology and then made available to the requesting physician attending to the exposed person(s).

AFTER HOURS

If the exposure occurs outside of business hours of their personal care physician, the exposed person may utilize an emergency room for immediate follow-up of an exposure incident.  Contact with a personal physician and filing of an exposure form should be done as soon as possible.

Print a copy of the Bloodborne Pathogen Exposure Testing Request Form

 

 

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