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County approves pathologist position; search to start now
Apr 10, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer
Officials hope to have a forensic pathologist at work for Fremont County by July 1.
The Fremont County Commission on Wednesday authorized Coroner Ed McAuslan to open the search for candidates, voting unanimously to include a forensic pathologist in McAuslan's budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
"I'm in favor of looking at this further," Commissioner Travis Becker said.
McAuslan, in an interview, said he plans to begin advertising the position. At the meeting, he was optimistic his search would be successful, noting that he has received three unsolicited applications already based solely on a story in The Ranger that was posted online by an organization for forensic pathologists.
"I think it would be good...to put something out like this and see if we have any other interest," McAuslan said.
Commission Chair Doug Thompson agreed that McAuslan should move forward with an advertisement.
"Just don't hire somebody tomorrow," Thompson added.
During a meeting that day, McAuslan said the position will save money for the county, despite requiring a salary of $100,000.
Including health insurance and other benefits, the position's total compensation would be about $140,000.
In addition, McAuslan said, the morgue in the Fremont County Courthouse in Lander would need to be equipped with a refrigerator for cadavers as well as rib shears and a microscope before full autopsies could be performed there. That equipment would cost about $8,000 total, and McAuslans's budget indicated the facility would need about $1,000 in extra repairs.
However, adding a forensic pathologist would reduce costs by allowing the county to perform autopsies it currently pays a private doctor to perform.
The coroner's office also would see lower personnel expenses with a forensic pathologist on staff: Currently, on-call deputies have to transport bodies to Loveland, Colo., for an autopsy by a contracted specialist. With a county employee doing the job in Lander, travel expenses would be much lower.
McAuslan also expects the forensic pathologist to generate revenue by performing autopsies for other Wyoming counties.
Commissioners questioned how the county would bill other entities for autopsies and asked whether an on-staff forensic pathologist would be paid to testify in court elsewhere. Fremont County Attorney Michael Bennett said his office has to pay its private forensic pathologist $3,500 each time the Colorado-based doctor comes to Fremont County to testify, which can be as many as three times for any homicide case. Bennett hoped a county-employed doctor would allow the county attorney's office to reduce its budget by avoiding the extra court fee.
Fremont County Treasurer Scott Harnsberger said his office could process billing for autopsies without adding much more work.
Adding the position would have other benefits, according to McAuslan. At Wednesday's meeting he pointed out that the move would keep Fremont County's money in the state. And in previous discussions he noted that a local expert would be able to examine crime scenes in order to compile a more thorough report for investigators.
Much of the conversation with commissioners focused on the financial side of hiring a forensic pathologist. In past meetings, commissioners questioned whether the county could offer a high enough salary to be attractive to such a highly trained doctor.
Forensic pathologists have to complete medical school and earn two post-doctorate certifications then pass two exams to be accredited.
Mark Stramoen, the county's chief deputy coroner, thought the compensation as envisioned would be competitive.
"If you count all the benefits in, it's well within the mid range for a forensic pathologist," he said.
Stratmoen said forensic pathologists usually make between $100,000 and $250,000 a year.