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N.H. Lawmakers Butt Heads with A.G. Over Federal Grant to Relieve Autopsy Backlog

NHPR/Hannah McCarthy

Lawmakers have decided that, for the time being, New Hampshire will only be accepting a portion of a federal grant intended to help the state Medical Examiner work through a backlog of opioid-related autopsies. 

Attorney General Joseph Foster met with resistance during Friday’s fiscal committee meeting in Concord when he requested that the state accept approximately $285,000 in federal grant money to aid the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Only two pathologists are employed by the office, and, over the past 9 years, the annual autopsy load has more than doubled, mostly driven by New Hampshire’s opioid crisis. The Attorney General explained that the state can use the money to hire an additional pathologist on a contract basis, and then consider a fulltime position during budget talks. But according to Senator Chuck Morris, that isn’t going to happen this time around.

"We've consistently said," explained Senator Morris, "we're not putting new employees in if they're going to outlive the grant and be part of the next budget, then we'll debate them in the next budget."

Instead, lawmakers moved to accept only part of the grant, around 40,000 dollars, to cover a contracted pathologist through June.

The rest of the grant money, says Attorney General Foster, will still be up for grabs in July, if and when lawmakers provide new direction for its use. That direction could be a fulltime position, or another contract. If the full funds are not expended within a year’s time, they will have to be returned to the government. 

Hannah McCarthy first came to NHPR an intern in 2015, returned as a Fellow the following year and then bounced around as a reporter and producer before landing as co-host of Civics 101. She has reported on everything from the opioid epidemic to State House politics to haunted woods of New Hampshire.
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