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By Michael P. Norton

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, OCT. 24, 2017.....There's a new boss at the state office charged with investigating the cause and manner of death in cases that occur under violent, suspicious, or unexplained circumstances.

Dr. Mindy Hull is replacing Dr. Henry Nields as chief medical examiner, the Baker administration announced Tuesday. Nields held the post since 2008, and announced in January that he would retire when his successor was appointed. Hull has been a medical examiner in Massachusetts since 2007.

The office had 104 employees in 2016, up significantly from earlier this decade, and operated with a $7.63 million budget, up from $4.5 million in 2012. The chief medical examiner serves a five-year term.

Nields had a base pay of $276,000 in 2016 and was one of six office employees who earned more than $200,000 per year, including Hull at more than $251,000, according to the state comptroller's office. The office's median pay in 2016 was $61,805.

Hull earned her undergraduate degree in natural science and math at Bradford College in Haverhill and her medical degree from SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, N.Y. She completed her residency at Massachusetts General Hospital in 2007.

Dr. Mindy Hull is the state's new chief medical examiner. [Photo: Courtesy]

Public Safety Secretary Dan Bennett said he worked on cases with Hull when he was a prosecutor and respects her skills as a pathologist and investigator. "She has a thorough understanding of all aspects of the office and has consistently displayed the leadership skills necessary to carry the office forward," Bennett said in a statement.

A recent audit of the chief medical examiner's office concluded that it "did not monitor completion of toxicology examinations or complete autopsy reports and death certificates in a timely fashion." Auditor Suzanne Bump said in August that the office's deficiencies could lead to delays in families receiving life insurance payments, affect the receipt of final death certificates and autopsy reports for probate matters, and threaten the office's accreditation.

Another audit, released in June, found electronic equipment "that may have contained confidential information" was stored in areas "easily accessible" to people outside of the office's information technology department. The medical examiner's office left 40 hard drives "designated as worthless" in an "open, unsecured area," the audit found.

During testimony to lawmakers earlier this year, Bennett said Nields had guided the office through "a difficult time."

Bennett said in March that he was working to hire additional medical examiners. "Like many medical examiner offices across the country, the volume of cases has increased while staffing levels have either remained static, or decreased considerably," he said in March, according to his testimony.

Organizational changes, Bennett said, had improved supports for medical examiners. From October 2015 through October 2016, he said, 72 percent of autopsy reports were completed in 90 days, up from 38 percent the year prior. In that same timeframe, 81 percent of death certificates were completed in 90 days.

"Whether it is providing families with closure, evidence to the courts, or a statistical overview of the well-being of our communities, our office reaches across many different areas," Hull said in a statement. "I am honored to be chosen to lead this office and I approach this role with a deep sense of responsibility and pride in the work that we do."


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