NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Dr. Barbara Sampson, the first woman to lead the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in its 100 year history, announced her departure Monday for a job in the private sector.
Sampson has been with the agency, the nation's largest medical examiner's office, 23 years, including nine as chief, and steered it through the grueling onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We were so overwhelmed with the number of fatalities here in the city that we needed every OCME employee to be part of our COVID response," Sampson recalled in an interview with ABC News.
Prior to the pandemic, Sampson oversaw the autopsies of Eric Garner, Joan Rivers and Jeffrey Epstein, each of which which generated a degree of public controversy.
"Keep with the truth and what is based in science and in medicine you can't go too far astray," she said of her guiding philosophy.
Sampson has championed new technology for DNA analysis and for opioids detection so autopsies can more quickly inform public health officials and law enforcement about what drugs are on the street.
She has maintained the office's commitment, started under her predecessor Dr. Charles Hirsch, to keep examining human remains recovered from the 9/11 attacks.
There were new identifications on the 20-year anniversary.
Sampson told ABC News she didn't think much at the time of her appointment about being the first woman chief medical examiner in the city, but she reflected on it now that she is leaving her post for a position in the Mount Sinai Health System.
"I was clearly a role model for so many women who are interested in careers in medicine in science and in government," she said. "I found that, now, looking back, extremely rewarding."
Dr. Jason Graham has been appointed acting Chief Medical Examiner.
He most recently served as First Deputy Chief Medical Examiner, the second highest leadership position at the agency, since 2013.
Dr. Graham joined OCME in 2006 and has also served as Deputy Chief Medical Examiner for Manhattan.
An expert in the investigation of overdose fatalities, he leads OCME's response to the opioid epidemic in coordination with local, state and federal partners.
"I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have served alongside Dr. Sampson as she instituted innovations in forensic science and led our agency in response to the greatest public health crisis in a generation, and I am committed to a smooth transition that preserves strength and stability at OCME with support from our executive leadership team and all our dedicated employees," he said. "We thank Dr. Sampson for her tireless public service and wish her the best in her new position, where she will focus on the education of future pathologists at a time when expertise in forensic pathology is urgently needed."
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