VDH’s medical examiner’s office has one of the few forensic epidemiology units in the nation. It looks at the events and factors that lead up to certain types of death with the aim to prevent, or at least reduce, them in the future. The unit’s analyses and recommendations are compiled in reports that inform policy makers and citizens about issues vital to a caring society. These reports are evidence that the dead can indeed help the living.
Although the medical examiner’s office main responsibility is to determine the cause and manner of certain deaths, it also hosts various surveillance projects and fatality review teams who work to identify those Virginians most at risk for sudden or violent death and make recommendations for education, training and prevention efforts that help reduce death in Virginia. These projects include:
- The Virginia State Child Fatality Review Team
This team systematically analyzes child deaths to determine whether they could have been prevented and to make recommendations for education, training, and prevention. Team members include physicians and representatives from state and local agencies who provide services to families and children or who may be involved in the investigation of a child death. The reports are available here.
- Family and Intimate Partner Violence Surveillance
In the interest of reducing the fatalities related to domestic violence in Virginia, the medical examiner reviews reports of these deaths, whether homicide or suicide, that occur as a result of abuse between family members or intimate partners. See reports here.
- The National Violent Death Reporting System
There are roughly 50,000 suicides and homicides each year in the United States; 1,200 of these tragedies occur in Virginia. Suicide and homicide rank among the leading causes of death among Virginians aged 1 to 39. Because there was limited information about the specific circumstances of these types of deaths or their implications for public health planning, policy development and prevention efforts, the medical examiner implemented the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) in Virginia in 2003. Funded through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NVDRS establishes a national violent death surveillance system that allows us to study violent death trends and produce preventive measures. Reports are available here.
- Maternal Mortality Review Team
A premature death related to pregnancy is a community issue that warrants attention. The Virginia Maternal Mortality Review Team determines the cause of unexpected deaths among pregnant women or those that occur within one year of pregnancy. The team’s findings help educate colleagues and policymakers about the causes of death surrounding pregnancy. They often identify the need for changes in the law and/or health care practices, and lead to other improvements and interventions that can help reduce the number of preventable maternal deaths in Virginia. Reports are available here.