County would save big money by conducting autopsies locally, coroner tells commissioners

Nov 18, 2013 By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Fremont County now pays $1,060 for each autopsy performed by a contracted forensic pathologist in Colorado, plus an additional $200 or more in salaries and travel expenses for each trip.

Fremont County officials are looking into the possibility of hiring a forensic pathologist to perform autopsies in Fremont County.

County Coroner Ed McAuslan proposed the idea during a Fremont County Commission meeting last week. He said a local pathologist would save the county money and provide better services for local death investigations.

"I see it as a great resource for us," McAuslan told the commission.

"We're going to have someone here who can go to our crime scenes or death scenes. He can look at almost every case, and he won't be paid on a per-case basis."

McAuslan said Fremont County pays $1,060 for each autopsy performed by a contracted forensic pathologist.

The coroner's office spends additional $200 or more in staff salaries and travel expenses to bring bodies to the pathologist's office in Loveland, Colo.

The costs add up to $72,000 to $90,000 for the 60-75 autopsies Fremont County requires each year.

Additional income

McAuslan pointed out that Fremont County's forensic pathologist would be the only one licensed in the state, and other Wyoming counties could be interested in the service.

He did not know which counties would be interested in using a forensic pathologist employed by Fremont County, nor did he know how many autopsies other counties require each year.

In an interview, McAuslan said he is working to answer those questions and has sent letters to coroners throughout the state to solicit their interest.

He suggested those counties could pay Fremont County to conduct autopsies, with the pathologist receiving a portion of each fee.

Several commissioners took issue with the idea that the pathologist would receive a portion of the money from other counties.

"That potentially could be a deal breaker for me," Commissioner Keja Whiteman said.

If the forensic pathologist were hired as a county employee, he should receive a flat salary, she said, and the income from other counties should go to the county.

McAuslan said Whiteman's scenario would make sense, but he said the county would have to pay the doctor more if it pursued a flat salary structure.

Private business

Whiteman also suggested the forensic pathologist could set himself up as a private business in Fremont County.

"It seems like the best option, for me, would be to assist him in bringing a new business to this community, and we could help by facilitating those conversations with other counties," she said.

McAuslan recommended that a pathologist hired by Fremont County use the county's morgue facilities, be eligible for legal services through the Fremont County Attorney's Office, and be covered by county insurance.

Commission vice chairman Travis Becker asked McAuslan to bring more information to the board in February.

"I'd like to see a benefit-cost analysis done on this - what we're doing now versus having this in-county," Becker said.

Specifically, Becker asked McAulan to determine the demand for autopsies from other counties.

Becker also wondered whether employing a doctor would affect the county's insurance premiums.

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