Alameda County coroner working through backlog of autopsies

At the Alameda County Coroner's Bureau, tucked in a eucalyptus grove in the Oakland hills, there's now a backlog of autopsies.

"There’s just a lot of people dying," said sheriff's Sgt. Erik Bordi.

The coroner's bureau handled 5,600 cases in 2021, compared to a little over 4,000 cases in 2019 before the pandemic.

Bordi says that means there's been delays in wrapping up investigations for homicides, suicides and accidental deaths, including drug overdoses.

"So that makes funeral arrangements farther out," Bordi said. "Families can’t get their reports. Sometimes they need to complete a death certificate to close out the person who passed away’s affairs."

On Thursday, KTVU got a tour of the coroner's bureau.

"These are our coroner's vans. These are what our investigators use to go out to the scenes," Bordi said.

On busy days these vans could potentially be totally filled up. 

"You can fit two people on the gurneys and the floor actually raises up, in case you need to fit four," he said.

Inside, forensic pathologists conduct autopsies, then write detailed reports.  

"The last one is the main cooler, so that's where pretty much everyone goes, and it connects to the autopsy suite," Bordi said.

Officials installed refrigerated containers outside as the COVID pandemic broke out.  

There's an average of 5 to 12 autopsies conducted each day, with many left for the next day.

"They basically triage and do what they can to try to get those numbers down," Bordi said.

But that doesn't mean they're rushing anything.

"We’re trying our best. We don’t want to shortcut anything cuz that’s a disservice to them. They want to know exactly what happened and we want to be able to tell them," Bordi said.

Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern says officials are trying to clear the backlog.

"We’ve hired a new chief pathologist to help us manage this increase and they’ve gone out and hired some contractors and pathologists," Ahern said.