Northwest Florida is on its way to having a new permanent medical examiner at the same time that the office has seen its case load nearly double over last year, due in part to the coronavirus pandemic.
State Attorney Bill Eddins announced Thursday that a search committee has selected Dr. Deanne Oleske to become chief medical examiner for Florida’s First Judicial Circuit.
Oleske’s contract must still be negotiated and approved by the four counties of the district, Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties. Once the contract is approved, the state Medical Examiners Commission would then recommend that Gov. Ron DeSantis appoint Oleske to the position.
Oleske is currently an associate medical examiner in the 23rd medical examiners district, which includes St. Johns, Putnam and Flagler counties. She has been working as a temporary associate medical examiner in Pensacola since January. She graduated from medical school in 2011 from Wayne State University in Detroit.
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Oleske’s appointment ends a more than year-long search to find a permanent replacement for Dr. Andrea Minyard as the area’s medical examiner after disputes over the office’s budget in 2018. Dr. Timothy Gallagher has been serving as medical examiner since Minyard’s term ended in October 2019.
Gallagher will remain in the position until Oleske’s appointment is approved by DeSantis.
Oleske’s appointment comes as the medical examiner’s office is seeing an increased case load for death investigations caused by increases in homicides, suicides and coronavirus cases.
The Escambia County Commission approved $190,000 in additional funding for the office because of the increased case load. County documents indicate the office has seen a 32% increase in homicide cases and a 34% increase in suicides over the last year, but did not mention coronavirus.
However, Jeff Martin, director of the medical examiner’s office, told the News Journal earlier this month that the office hit 1,000 death investigations for 2020 in July, which was the total number of death investigations for all of 2019. Martin attributed a large bulk of the increase to COVID-19 death investigations.
There have been 319 COVID-19 deaths in the four-county area, according to the latest numbers from the Florida Department of Health.
Escambia County Administrator Janice Gilley said the medical examiner’s office will also likely apply for funding from the county’s share of the CARES Act.
Oleske spoke briefly to the Escambia County Commission on Thursday and said she was ready to get to work.
“I hope to dutifully serve the citizens of this county and continue to have the office be as transparent as possible,” Oleske said.
Jim Little can be reached at [email protected] and 850-208-9827.