Jennifer Loren, Oklahoma Impact Team
OKLAHOMA CITY -- A new chief medical examiner was named Monday to take over the embattled state agency.
Dr. Eric Pfeifer will take over the position. He worked as a medical examiner at the world famous Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
The Board of Medicolegal Investigations decided in executive session Monday to offer Dr. Pfeifer the job. He has accepted, pending his medical license being granted in Oklahoma.
"We think this is a turning point for this agency. We think that a new day has come and we're really looking forward to a new direction for this agency," said Cherokee Ballard, Oklahoma Medical Examiner's Office spokesperson.
The Oklahoma Medical Examiner's office has been plagued with problems over the last couple of years, including the agency losing its accreditation.
Crystal Brannon is one of the countless Oklahomans forced to wait for answers about her loved one's death. Because of a huge backlog of cases at the M.E.'s office, it took five months to find out why her brother died.
"Why does it take five months to get a report back?" Brannon said.
That was back in 2007. Today, the M.E.'s office still has a backlog of more than 1,000 cases.
"A thousand is too many and our doctors agree," Ballard said.
Ballard said Dr. Pfeifer is aware of the challenges the agency is facing.
"He knows everything we're facing. So, the fact that he's willing to come in and help us, we're very grateful," Ballard said.
Beyond the huge backlog and loss of accreditation, Pfeifer faces the agency's numerous lawsuits, deteriorating facilities and dwindling funding sources, not to mention the strained working environment created by accusations of sexual harassment.
"We need some direction and we think that this will help us," Ballard said.
Ballard said she hopes the new director will help recruit new employees to bring closure to Oklahoma families left in limbo.
"I hope that it instills some confidence in some of the families who are waiting for their answers," Ballard said.
The agency has been searching for a new chief for a year. Dr. Collie Trant was terminated in February 2010. Since then, the job has been offered to Dr. Phillip Keen. He accepted in September 2010, but the offer was later rescinded.
The job was also offered to Dr. Andrew Sibley, who served as the interim chief of the Oklahoma Medical Examiner's Office. He declined the offer in November 2010.