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Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013 12:01 am

State slow to approve pathologist with a past

The Sangamon County coroner’s office remains without a forensic pathologist more than two months after the county announced that it had retained a doctor to perform autopsies.

Dr. Nathaniel Patterson’s physician’s license application is stalled at the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, which averages 26 business days to process license applications. Coroner Cinda Edwards said that Patterson submitted all required paperwork in September and that she had hoped he would have been licensed in November.

“It’s incredibly frustrating,” Edwards said.

Paperwork associated with license applications is considered confidential by the state, so the reasons why Patterson hasn’t yet gotten a license aren’t clear. However, Edwards confirmed that his case is before the state Medical Licensing Board, which weighs in on license applications when the department, which can issue licenses without board action, believes an extra level of review is needed.

Patterson, who graduated from the American University of the Caribbean Medical School in 2007, most recently was licensed in Texas, where he completed a pathology fellowship. Due to a history of alcohol abuse and arrests, Texas regulators required him to receive psychiatric care, attend meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous and submit to random testing for drugs and alcohol. In February, he applied for a license in Oklahoma, where the state medical examiner’s office last spring offered him a job, but he withdrew his Oklahoma license application on Oct. 15, shortly after Edwards announced that he was coming to Sangamon County.

Patterson was arrested several times for alcohol-related offenses between 1996 and 2001, according to the Texas Medical Board, and has been sober since 2008.

Edwards defends Patterson as an excellent doctor who has changed his ways.

“I think it’s going to be a good thing for Sangamon County,” Edwards said. “Let’s judge him on his performance.”

The county, St. John’s Hospital and Memorial Medical Center have agreed to pay Patterson at least $175,000 a year. The county will pay him $900 for each autopsy, and the hospitals will make up any difference between the guaranteed salary and per-autopsy payments.

Patterson met with the Illinois Medical Licensing Board during its Dec. 11 monthly meeting, Edwards said, and she expects the board to take action during a Jan. 8 meeting. She said she’s crossing her fingers that the meeting won’t be canceled.

“With my luck, there’ll be a huge snowstorm,” Edwards said. “At this point, I’m expecting anything.”  

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