A successful move at the Institute of Forensic Sciences of Puerto Rico

Accreditation of the Institute of Forensic Sciences (ICF) by the Department of Clinical-Forensic Investigations and Toxicology of the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) validates the administrative measures taken to date, presents important challenges that remain to be addressed and provides lessons for other state entities subject to accreditation from specialized agencies In search of best practices in medical operations and other professional fields.

ICF Executive Director Maria Conti Miller stated that the accreditation took into account the corrective plan submitted to the entity, as well as compliance with the autopsy report in 90 days, the delivery of the bodies in less than 72 hours and the proposed salary increase for agency staff. Systematic delays in the Department of Pathology resulted in the aforementioned accrediting body and promoter of stringent quality standards keeping the ICD in check for several years.

These achievements brought the Institute of Forensic Sciences back into the right direction to reach the high level it had achieved as a leading institution recognized abroad for decades since its establishment in 1985.

However, it is necessary to respond to the challenges that the Institute continues to face in budgetary matters. In research to make the salary terms for forensic experts more competitive, it is essential to train and strive to retain high caliber professionals, who are able to serve an entity critical to Puerto Rico’s security, justice, and public health systems.

It is so unsustainable that the agency on which crime-illustration largely depends has lost 40 experts in two years, attracted by offers that sometimes triple what they receive here. Currently, according to Dr. Conti Miller, the agency requires at least 14 or 15 pathologists, but only has 10.

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Recognizing the risks in this situation, Governor Pedro Pierluisi emphasized that among the reasons for the granting of accreditation by NAME was a commitment to increase ICF staff salaries by $2.7 million in budget for the following fiscal year and $1.1 million to hire staff. The Financial Supervisory Board has approved $1 million for these increases, and the government will insist on showing the federal agency the importance of complying with said agreement to keep the ICF fully operating. In addition, the credibility of the institution, and ultimately the government of Puerto Rico, vis-à-vis the authorized entity, is at stake.

It is worth noting that the institute has done its part to bypass obstacles that led to a period that should not be repeated in Puerto Rico, where families had to wait for weeks to receive the bodies of their loved ones while entity facilities were crammed with corpses awaiting autopsies. In addition, more than 76,000 pieces of raw evidence were collected, including firearms seized by the police’s criminal investigation departments, as well as DNA and serology tests – thousands related to cases of sexual assault. These delays have contributed to the climate of impunity that Puerto Rico must leave behind.

Today, on the contrary, the institute presents itself as an example that other strictly regulated agencies, such as the academic programs of the University of Puerto Rico’s Medical Sciences Campus, should follow. These entities should pay attention to the frequency of administrative procedure and administrative rigor that the ICF has shown to respond to the corrective plans of the accreditation entities.

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The discipline and operational competitiveness that earned ICF accreditation for five years could have prevented the loss of accreditation, for example, to a program as critical as neurosurgery, causing the island to be left without resident neurologists for several years.

Experience shows that an unwavering commitment to comply with the strict quality standards of the Puerto Rican government’s medical and professional operations will be essential to restoring efficiency and credibility in services essential to the country’s well-being.

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