Certifying a Death in Vermont
Death Investigation in Vermont
Vermont law created a statewide medical examiner system back in the mid 1950's. From its inception, death investigation has relied upon community based local death investigators coordinated through a central system led by a forensic pathologist, the chief medical examiner.
This system has evolved over the years from local investigators the majority of whom were physicians, to today's statewide cadre of advanced emergency medical service technicians, paramedics, and nurses, as well as physicians.
- Chief Medical Examiner - Stephen Shapiro, MD
- Deputy Chief Medical Examiner - Elizabeth A. Bundock, MD, Ph.D.
- Local Medical Examiner Coordinator - Lauri McGivern, D-ABMDI
- Office Manager - Suzanne C. Webb, RN
- Records Specialist - Lorraine Wojdyla
- Local Medical Examiners - Approximately 60 individuals statewide whose backgrounds include service as doctors, nurses and advanced emergency medical technicians.
How the System Works
There are only two places where an individual can die. Either in a health care facility such as a hospital, or somewhere else.
Death Outside of Hospital - No Suspicion
When someone is found dead by another person either in a residence or outdoors the usual response is to call 911. This call will activate the police, who will respond to the scene and make a preliminary investigation.
If preliminary investigation indicates no "suspicious" circumstances, the person's primary care physician will then be contacted for an indication of whether the death was unexpected. If not, and there was nothing else that contributed to the death, such as remote trauma, then a death certificate will be issued and the body can be released, without involvement by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME).
Death Outside of Hospital - Suspicious or Unattended
If the preliminary investigation by law enforcement uncovers something "suspicious," the deceased has no primary care physician, or that physician believes the death is truly unexpected and is unwilling to certify the death, then the OCME local investigators are activated (by calling 1-888-552-2952). The local medical examiner is dispatched to the scene and begins an investigation.
Local Medical Examiner Investigation
The local medical examiners are volunteers trained by the OCME in death investigation. The professional backgrounds of these volunteers vary, though most are trained in advanced emergency medical services, paramedics, nurses or physicians. The local examiners are usually the first-contact people for case notification.
The local medical examiners triage cases, gather initial information, visit death scenes, and often serve as the initial liaisons with emergency services, hospitals, families, etc.
Once primary information is obtained, the local examiner will consult with the OCME. In short, these volunteers are the OCME "first responders."
If it is established that further investigation is necessary, the local examiners arrange for the body to be transported to the OCME for examination. Examination can take the form of a detailed visual inspection, right up to a full medical autopsy, with associated ancillary testing (toxicology, histology, radiograph, photography, etc.).
Become a Local Medical Examiner
If you are interested in becoming a local medical examiner, or would like more information, please contact the department's Local Medical Examiner Coordinator Lauri McGivern via e-mail: Lauri.McGivern@state.vt.us.