BURLINGTON — Health Commissioner Mark Levine announced Monday the appointment of Dr. Elizabeth Bundock as Vermont’s Chief Medical Examiner. Bundock, who joined the Department of Health in 2007 as deputy chief medical examiner, takes over the state office that oversees death investigations, following the retirement of long-time Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Steven Shapiro.
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) is responsible for investigating deaths that take place in Vermont, ensuring accurate and complete assessment of cause. In her new role, Bundock will oversee the state’s forensic pathology services with an eight person staff and a statewide team of 32 community-based assistant medical examiners who are medicolegal death investigators. The office itself, along with its examining room and lab facilities, are located at the University of Vermont Medical Center.
“We are fortunate to have Elizabeth as part of the OCME team, and I am grateful she has agreed to take on this important job,” said Levine. “She has the expertise and experience, but perhaps more importantly, she has a deep sense of empathy and understanding of the very personal nature of each death. We all saw this first hand when Dr. Bundock was a leader in search and recovery efforts at Woodlawn Cemetery in Rochester, when 2011 Tropical Storm Irene unearthed and displaced dozens of remains which needed to be re-identified and re-interred.”
More than 6,000 people in Vermont die each year, with about 10 percent of those requiring a forensic examination by the OCME. It’s the role of the medical examiner’s office to determine the cause and manner of deaths and contributory conditions whenever possible. In addition – and perhaps counterintuitively – the investigations by the state’s medical examiners are a critical part of promoting public health in Vermont. Their findings are a key source of data about the illnesses and conditions that contribute to deaths in the state – data that informs policies and programs to help prevent those causes and promote Vermonters’ overall health and quality of life.
The OCME caseload that drives this work has nearly doubled in the past decade and is expected to increase, due in part to the state’s overall growth amid an aging population, as well as the tragic outcomes brought about the Covid pandemic and an ongoing opioid crisis.
Until his retirement this past summer, Shapiro was Vermont’s longest serving chief medical examiner, holding that position for nearly 20 years. At the time he took over as chief, the office caseload was low and the system a patchwork of death investigators. Levine credits Shapiro with strengthening the system and preparing it for 21st Century challenges. “Steve developed a dedicated, statewide professional team of death investigators and office staff, and an operational system that provides the people of Vermont with exemplary forensic pathology services.”
Levine added that “Shapiro’s approach and unique way of making the complex science of forensics relatable has fostered the next generation of medical professionals. He also helped many families understand what happened to their loved ones, providing that support as they manage the most difficult moment of their lives. His skills and perspective will be missed.”