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Pathologist hire gains ground

Feb 11, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

The math adds up to show Fremont County could hire its own forensic pathologist, according to a report from Fremont County Coroner Ed McAuslan.

He said during a Fremont County Commission meeting Tuesday that having a doctor who could perform autopsies on staff would benefit the county in a number of ways.

McAuslan first talked to commissioners in November about hiring a doctor to do autopsies. Currently, The coroner must send bodies to a private facility in Loveland, Colo.

"If this money is spent on a pathologist here, this money is spent in Fremont County instead of going to Colorado," McAuslan said.

Having a forensic pathologist on staff would allow the individual to visit homicide scenes to collect more information, McAuslan said.

The county also could perform general autopsies, such as in cases where the coroner would like to provide more information to the deceased's family about a hereditary medical condition.

Saving money

To save the county money, autopsies performed locally would have to cost less than $224,000, which is the cost saved by doing the work in-county combined with the fees earned by conducting autopsies for other counties.

Fremont County would save $97,000 annually if it performed its autopsies locally, based on an estimate of 60 autopsies a year, according to McAuslan's report. Last fiscal year, Fremont County had 63 autopsy cases, and the number has climbed over the last several years, though the eight-year average is 51.

Fremont County would bring in about $127,000 annually by performing 122 autopsies -- from four other counties --at $1,040 an autopsy, according to the report. The number of cases comes from a survey of Wyoming county coroners, and the price is what the county pays now for an autopsy.

Performing autopsies locally would save the Fremont County Attorney's Office money too because it currently costs $3,000 to $3,500 each time the Colorado-based pathologist testifies in court, County Attorney Michael Bennett stated in a letter.

The expert was last called to testify in the trial of Shey Elan Bruce.

Commission interest

Several commissioners said they supported the idea and asked McAuslan to develop a plan for the program to present along with his regular budget this spring.

"One thing I'd like to see is the (budget)," commission chairman Doug Thompson said. "Financial is probably going to be the No. 1 question."

A major cost for performing local autopsies would be hiring a forensic pathologist, a physician who pursued two fellowships after medical school and received two specialized certifications.

Online job postings for forensic pathologist positions in New York City and in southern California counties show a salary range of $149,000 to $223,000.

Forensic pathologists employed by government agencies earn $170,000 to $200,000 a year, according to a letter to The Ranger by Michael Heninger, a forensic pathologist in Atlanta, Ga.

McAuslan envisions the doctor to be a county employee with county benefits, which could add tens of thousands of dollars to the total compensation package.

McAuslan did not think the county would have to spend much to upgrade its facilities or add equipment to accommodate autopsies.

"At this time I'm not aware of any additional costs to upgrade," he said.

'"There would be minimal costs, like the pathologist would need a microscope. We don't have a microscope now."

McAuslan said a Denver forensic pathologist who is originally from Wyoming is interested in working for Fremont County if the position becomes available.

And a forensic pathologist from San Antonio sent McAuslan an application after reading a story that ran in The Ranger about the commission considering hiring someone to perform autopsies, the coroner said.

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