PO Box 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

For Release:
September 4, 2018

Shereef Elnahal

For Further Information Contact:
Office of Communications
(609) 984-7160

Office of the Chief State Medical Examiner Joins NJ Department of Health

To better support the medical examiner system in New Jersey, the Office of the Chief State Medical Examiner joined the New Jersey Department of Health effective Sept. 1.

Gov. Phil Murphy signed the Revised State Medical Examiner Act on July 3 that established the Office of the Chief State Medical Examiner in but not of the Department of Health. This law gives the Chief State Medical Examiner authority over the entire medical examiner system that is comprised of two State-administered regional offices and eight county-operated facilities.

“We look forward to working closely with Dr. Andrew L. Falzon, the Chief State Medical Examiner to make rapid and effective improvements,” said New Jersey Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal. “We are working closely with the State Medical Examiner and the Attorney General’s Office to ensure a smooth transition.”

Dr. Falzon said the move to the Department of Health “follows the recommendations of the National Association of Medical Examiners, which states that Medical Examiner Offices should be independent of law enforcement agencies.  Many people believe that the main role of medical examiner offices is to investigate homicides, but in fact, approximately 35 percent of the cases examined are natural deaths.”

He added, “Other responsibilities of the office include mass fatality preparedness, compiling death related statistics, monitoring emerging causes of mortality such as drugs and infections, and reviewing infant mortality cases. Having the Medical Examiner’s Office closely affiliated with the Health Department will assist in facilitating these functions.”

The Commissioner and Chief State Medical Examiner have five top areas of focus:

  1. Modernizing and standardizing protocols across the medical examiner system
  2. Establishing oversight of regional medical examiners to ensure standard practices
  3. Standardizing data and reporting of public health priorities such as the opioid epidemic
  4. Modernizing the State Toxicology Laboratory, which currently performs postmortem and law enforcement drug testing
  5. Publishing an annual report on the system’s performance.

With strengthened statewide authority over protocols, training, staffing and resources at all medical examiner sites, the Chief State Medical Examiner also has the power to intervene in any death investigation conducted in the state, at the Chief’s discretion. The Chief State Medical Examiner must also establish operating and performance standards for every medical examiner office, including uniform protocols for death investigations.

As part of the reforms, a board certified forensic pathologist will also be employed in every office.

“These reforms will result in a more efficient and effective medical examiner system that will better meet the needs of New Jerseyans in a more coordinated way,” Commissioner Elnahal said.

With a budget of $12.7 million, the office joins the Department with 97 employees as part of this change.

The Office is responsible for investigating the cause of suspicious, violent, unexplained and unexpected deaths, deaths due to injury and violence and deaths that occur in legal custody.  In 2017, Medical Examiner Offices in New Jersey reviewed about 21,000 deaths and conducted about 5,000 autopsies.

The new website for the State Medical Examiner’s Office can be found at: http://nj.gov/health/me

Follow New Jersey Health Commissioner Elnahal on Twitter.

Follow the New Jersey Department of Health on Twitter @njdeptofhealth, Facebook /njdeptofhealth, Instagram @njdeptofhealth and Snapchat @njdoh.


Last Reviewed: 9/4/2018