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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Forensic Sciences Institute’s investigation division earns professional accreditation

Institute of Forensic Sciences Executive Director Dr. María Conte Miller

By The Star Staff

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia announced on Monday that the Institute of Forensic Sciences’ (ICF by its Spanish initials) Division of Forensic Medicine and Toxicological Investigation, the equivalent of the Medical Examiner’s Office, has achieved accreditation from the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME).

The ICF met the high and rigorous quality standards established by the accrediting entity, the governor said.

“This achievement is important because it is the product of a process of improvements and corrective actions that [ICF Executive Director] Dr. [María] Conte [Miller] has led with the support of our administration to make the necessary changes to ensure excellent service at the Institute of Forensic Sciences,” Pierluisi said at a press conference. “I congratulate Dr. María Conte Miller and all the staff who, day by day, demonstrate with their work the mission, responsibility and integrity at the service of our justice system.”

Pierluisi noted that in order to obtain the accreditation, the ICF initiated a corrective plan, managed by the executive director, which included, among other actions, compliance with the autopsy report within 90 days, the delivery of corpses in under 72 hours, the reduction of unidentified bodies (referred to as John Doe) and the proposed salary increase for all employees of the institution.

Likewise, Conte hired a new pathologist, purchased new equipment for autopsies and toxicology analysis, and remodeled the facilities and the autopsy room, which included more space in the refrigerators with modern temperature controls. She added disinfection and ergonomic equipment for employees, among other established procedures that exceed $7 million.

Conte Miller stressed that along with the ICF team “we launched this plan that today allows us to have accreditation again; we worked hard on the recommendations and requirements of NAME, and finally today we have it.”

“The accreditation is a recognition of the work we carry out at Forensic Sciences and a guarantee that the investigations we conduct are reliable and objective from the point of view of the scientist,” she said. “In addition, it frees us from the risk of not being able to access federal funds that require us to be accredited. This accreditation strengthens the credibility and reputation of the institution before the justice system.”

The forensic pathologist noted that last February the ICF began a new protocol that included sending a form to hospitals and doctors to complete the patient’s information. This way, in 24 hours or less, a pathologist or forensic doctor makes the decision to accept or not accept jurisdiction, according to the provisions of Law 135 of 2020 (Puerto Rico Institute of Forensic Sciences Law) on the cases that must be referred.

“This protocol was endorsed by NAME in its accreditation report,” Conte Miller said.

In a seven-page document, the NAME inspectors noted that the ICF “has overcome significant challenges and is performing at a remarkably high level.”

“Most importantly, it is clear that efforts to improve continue,” they wrote. “We commend the agency for its work to improve compensation and to retain and recruit a competent workforce. This is essential to guaranteeing that the quality of their work and the different delivery times are at levels that provide a good service to citizens.”

In 2020 alone, the ICF received in excess of 1,063 cases of natural death; that year, pathologists performed 2,334 autopsies, according to agency data. The number of referrals from hospitals and doctors increased to 1,163 in 2021.

Another of the initiatives promoted by the Pierluisi administration was the new Rapid DNA technology, announced in September of last year. With that tool, the ICF analyzes the tests to detect genetic evidence in cases of sexual assault, known as safe kits, in its DNA laboratory within a maximum period of 10 working days.

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