Dr. Barbara Sampson, New York City’s first female chief medical examiner, and at the helm through the pandemic's darkest days, is leaving for a position at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, officials announced Monday.
Sampson, who was appointed in 2014 to the medical examiner post by Mayor Bill de Blasio, supervised a number of major changes at the nation’s largest municipal forensic operation, including the addition of new DNA technology to identify disaster and crime victims.
According to a spokeswoman for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Sampson’s last day on the job will be Tuesday. She is set to begin her new post Wednesday as vice chair for laboratory strategic initiatives and academic affairs, and professor of pathology at the Manhattan medical school.
Dr. Jason Graham has been appointed acting chief medical examiner, officials said. Graham has been with the OCME since 2006 and in his current job since 2008.
In 2016, Sampson and other OCME officials put together a plan for handling a surge of mass fatalities involving deaths in and out of hospitals from virus infections and other pathogens. The study estimated in its most severe form, a "biological incident" could lead to more than 50,000 deaths over an eight-week span. The report said the OCME would be the lead agency in handling the casualties.
When the coronavirus pandemic engulfed the city in March 2020, Sampson and her staff were swamped with pandemic victims as well as other deaths. To store the increased numbers of bodies, Sampson and the OCME, along with other city agencies established a long-term storage operation at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal. The facility allowed families of pandemic victims more time to arrange final disposition and funerals. The operation lasted for nearly 500 days before concluding this past September.
As of Monday, there have been more than 34,000 confirmed and probable COVID-19 deaths in New York City, officials said.
In recent years, the OCME under Sampson began using a rapid DNA analysis system to identify mass fatality victims in as little as two hours.
Officials hope to use that system in criminal cases. With the remains of more than 1,100 victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks still unidentified, OCME also began using a state of the art massive DNA sequencing system this year, known as Next Generation Sequencing, to get usable DNA profiles from degraded remains for identifications.
"I am enormously proud of OCME for maintaining our steadfast tradition of independent investigations in the service of public health and the criminal justice system and helping New Yorkers cope with the most difficult moments of trauma and loss," Sampson said in a statement. "I leave the agency knowing that we are stronger and poised to address whatever challenges come next for our city."