Dr. Margaret Greenwald, Maine’s chief medical examiner, retired effective Friday, her office said.

Mark Belserene, administrator for the Office of Chief Medical Examiner, confirmed that Greenwald had left the position after 16 years as the state’s top forensic investigator.

During her tenure, Greenwald helped modernize the death investigation process and implemented standards that brought the office closer to obtaining national accreditation.

State law empowers the governor to appoint the chief medical examiner. Timothy Feeley, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, which oversees the medical examiner’s office, said Dr. Mark Flomenbaum, currently the deputy chief medical examiner, has the support of the attorney general to become the next chief.

“He is uniquely prepared to assume that role,” Feeley wrote in an email.

In her time as chief medical examiner, Greenwald faced challenges in finances and personnel, including perennial pressure to handle a growing caseload with few budget increases from the Legislature and difficulty retaining employees for the long term.

Although her plans to retire were not known at the time, Greenwald hinted publicly last year that her successor would face difficulties.

When she requested additional funding in April 2013 for two new death investigator positions, which required a legislative appropriation as well as changes to a state statute, Greenwald warned of major problems ahead for the office if additional staff members were not hired.

Without the investigators, Greenwald told a legislative committee, “the current medical examiner’s system will fail completely within the next five years,” according to a copy of her testimony.

Skyrocketing numbers of drug overdoses and increasing costs have forced the office to make tough choices about which deaths receive autopsies and are investigated, and have also led to a growing backlog of cases, according to a Press Herald review of how the office operates.

On average, determining a cause of death in Maine takes six months, according to the medical examiner’s office. National standards call for 60 days for uncomplicated cases, and 90 days for homicides.

“The cases that we look at have perhaps become a little more complex,” Greenwald said during an interview in April. “The number of cases has gone up. We have done a number of different changes in our approach to the cases to try to make our process more efficient for families, but that doesn’t mean the work is any less significant for the office.”

Feeley said the hiring process for pathologists is difficult because state salaries for medical positions are not competitive with the private sector.

When the state recently advertised to fill Flomenbaum’s job in anticipation of Greenwald’s departure, the state did not receive responses from enough qualified people to select a candidate, Feeley said.

“The feedback we have gotten is that our pay and benefit package, set by statute, is not competitive enough to attract applicants,” Feeley wrote.

In 2013, Greenwald earned $187,000 plus benefits, while Flomenbaum was paid $137,000 plus benefits.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

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