The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday formally approved the appointment of a chief medical examiner-coroner, filling a post that opened up more than a year ago.
The supervisors approved a $350,000 annual salary for Dr. Jonathan Lucas, formerly the chief deputy medical examiner for San Diego County. He has 16 years of experience in forensic pathology and has personally performed more than 4,000 autopsies, according to county CEO Sachi Hamai.
Lucas previously worked in New York as a city medical examiner. He graduated from the University of Nevada School of Medicine and earned his undergraduate degree in biology from UC Riverside.
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"I look forward to collaborating with the department's dedicated, hard-working staff in bringing fresh approaches to the operation, while maintaining the exacting standards of service, accountability and compassion that the public expects and deserves," Lucas said in a statement.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger expressed confidence in Lucas' ability to deal with the challenges of a department that has been working to clear a backlog of bodies awaiting autopsy.
"Dr. Lucas brings new leadership, vast experience and the strong skill set necessary to meet the ever-changing technological, medical, scientific and administrative needs of this department,'' Barger said.
Barger thanked those who stepped up to lead the departmen in the wake of the abrupt departure of Dr. Mark Fajardo, who resigned in April 2016. He said then that his decision was prompted by a lack of funding and chronic understaffing.
A backlog of 180 bodies at the time Fajardo left had been cut to about 80 roughly a year later, with 17 awaiting autopsy in mid-April of this year, the Daily News reported. The acting chief medical examiner-coroner told the newspaper that increased staffing and overtime hours helped make the difference and also reduced a backlog of more than 2,000 toxicology reports.
The department did not immediately respond to a request for an update of those numbers, but a statement issued by the CEO's office said the department has made "significant strides in addressing key operational issues" over the past year.
A request for additional funding for 2017-18 was denied in the proposed budget presented to the board by Hamai in April, though the board's statement Tuesday said it was "committed to maintaining the momentum" of improvements.
The department's roughly $40 million budget includes 248 positions. The coroner's office conducts about 8,000-9,000 autopsies annually, according to coroner's spokesman Ed Winter.