Interim Milwaukee medical examiner poised to take helm amid 'unprecedented' caseload

A high number of overdose deaths and homicides can put a strain on the whole community, including the office responsible for autopsies. After a sudden retirement last year, Milwaukee County is operating with an interim medical examiner, and the county executive is calling the current caseload "unprecedented."

The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office does a lot, from body identification to death notifications, and the medical examiner is also required by law to investigate unexplained, unusual or suspicious deaths. Of course, that takes having the people to do the job.

"Despite all the challenges in the office, I stayed in Milwaukee," said Dr. Wieslawa Tlomak.

It’s a demanding job that’s only getting busier.

"Due to the COVID pandemic and opioid crisis, our number of cases increased drastically," said Dr. Tlomak.

It’s a position Dr. Tlomak already knows.

"Since my first day, I did everything so the office can continue to function," said Dr. Tlomak.

As a staff member of the office for more than 15 years and after acting as the interim medical examiner in Milwaukee County for the last about half a year, Dr. Tlomak said she’s been able to hire two new pathologists to help meet the rising demand for autopsies.

"With our case numbers, it was crucial to hire more forensic pathologists," said Dr. Tlomak, adding that they will start this summer.

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In September 2022, Medical Examiner Brian Peterson retired abruptly. At that time FOX6 reported the office’s accreditation was in jeopardy from a lack of pathologists to keep up with autopsies.

"Dr. Tlomak has already secured sorely needed professional resources through her recruitment efforts to increase staff," said Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley.

Crowley spoke at a committee meeting Monday, March 6 when county supervisors voted to send their confirmation recommendation of Dr. Tlomak as the county’s official medical examiner to the full board.

"She has really hit the ground running and keeping up with an unprecedented number of autopsies needed for the county all while maintaining the dignity and respect of the public as well as her staff," said Crowley.

The committee chairperson asked her what she thinks of the idea of systemic racism in the field.

"I think that there is systemic racism," said Dr. Tlomak. "I think that the most important part is to acknowledge that systemic racism exists and then address this issue. My colleagues and I, we do our best to approach all the cases without bias."

Dr. Tlomak has letters of recommendation from current members of the office. Her appointment as the official medical examiner still has to be approved by the full county board.

The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office is the only medical examiner's office in Wisconsin that is accredited.