City wants $50k salary increase for new Chief Medical Examiner

City wants $50k salary increase for new Chief Medical Examiner
Noel Ono
Noel Ono
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu hasn't had a chief medical examiner for three years, which is why Mayor Kirk Caldwell is asking City Council to approve a salary increase from $200,016 to $250,008.

The city has tried unsuccessfully to hire a new Director of the Medical Examiner's Department since 2009 when the former chief medical examiner, Dr. Kanthi DeAlwis, retired.

The chief medical examiner position has gotten a bump in pay twice already—from $118,344 in 2010, to $147,930 in 2011, to it's current amount of $200,016.

"We weren't able to get very many takers because we were so way below," said Noel Ono, Assistant Director of the City's Department of Human Resources. "In fact, we received some stink emails from the professional association because the salary is way too low in comparison and it was a legitimate complaint."

But the salary isn't the only thing making recruitment challenging. More than 17,000 medical school students graduate every year, but only an estimated 30 to 40 become forensic pathologists. That leaves only about 500 board-certified forensic pathologists in the nation—but there are over 22,000 coroner departments in the country, and every city wants one.

"The physicians are moving the other way because it can be more lucrative," said Ono. "So we're seeing that's why the numbers are so little and it's so highly competitive."

But city officials are hopeful this will be the year. It's the start of a new administration and since the position is appointed, the candidate will have job security through Caldwell's term. Plus, a recent change in law eliminated a prior one year residency requirement in the state.

"I think Hawaii has a lot to offer," said Ono. "The weather, the people, the attitudes," he described, adding, "The style isn't exactly the best up there in many of the cities they could work in."

Even though there isn't a chief medical examiner, officials tell us the department's work load is not an issue. There are three forensic pathologists conducting autopsies, though two of them are working on a freelance basis.

"We're very fortunate to have Dr. Khanti DeAlwis and Dr. William Goodhue, who were the Director and Deputy, continue to serve and assist the city and the people on a contract basis," said Ono. "So the professional services have always been maintained."

Three years ago the City department lost its accreditation with the National Association of Medical Examiners, because a board-certified forensic pathologist is not in charge. City officials say the department still maintains the Association's standards and they plan to re-apply for full certification as soon as they hire a new chief medical examiner.

The proposal will go before the Salary Commission next Tuesday, then requires final approval from the City Council.

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