3 counties merge to provide medical examiner services

Hennepin, Dakota, Scott counties will begin contract Jan. 1


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The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office will merge with the offices of Dakota and Scott counties Jan. 1 as a result of discussions during the last year about consolidating services, space and costs.

Dakota, Scott, Carver, Chisago, Fillmore, Freeborn, Goodhue and Houston counties are currently part of the Minnesota Regional Medical Examiners’ Office (MRMEO) joint powers agreement that will disband at the end of this year.

The Hennepin County Board of Commissioners recently approved the merger of the three counties and would vote on any proposed agreements submitted from the remaining partners in MRMEO.

Lindsey Thomas, the chief medical examiner for the MRMEO, said the Regina Medical Center facility in Hastings they’ve worked at for more than 25 years does not have the adequate space to continue providing services there.

Thomas will be the assistant medical examiner in Hennepin County as part of the merger.

Officials in Dakota County reviewed the feasibility of remodeling the space at Regina Medical Center, but the size of the facility also hindered that option, as well as building a new medical examiner office for the eight counties in MRMEO to use.

“The cost to build a new stand-alone facility was more than merging with another office,” Thomas said.

For Dakota and Scott counties, partnering with the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office made the most sense because the downtown Minneapolis location is closer than the hub of the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office in Anoka County, which they could also partner with, Thomas said.

And, the forensic pathologists and investigators that will become Hennepin County employees next year trained at that facility in the past, she said.

“It’s just a really good sustainable model,” Thomas said. “They have really good people and share a lot of similar practices and procedures,” she said.


Cases and capacity

Overall, the merger will yield financial savings for its partners, said Hennepin County Medical Examiner Office Administrator Michael Rossman.

“We should be able to with our staff, and some of theirs, cover a territory without two offices (and) duplicate equipment is not necessary,” he said.

Seven full-time employees from Dakota and Scott counties will transfer to Minneapolis from Hastings at the beginning of the year and become Hennepin County employees, he said.

On-call investigators who respond to cases in Dakota and Scott counties will continue in their roles under the merger.

“We’ll keep it the same as it is now for consistency and service,” Thomas said.

The agreement for the merger of the three counties will be in effect from Jan. 1, 2013, through Dec. 31, 2016.

Dakota and Scott counties will pay $1.5 million to fund the transfer of their services to Hennepin County, which includes $350,000 for some remodeling at the downtown Minneapolis offices, Rossman said.

The contract also includes a 2 percent annual increase for Dakota and Scott counties, which funds the services merger without additional costs to tax payers, he said.

Remodeling before the Jan. 1 merger will include completing unfinished space, technology upgrades and adding equipment to the morgue at the Hennepin County offices, Rossman said.

Cases processed in Hennepin County will increase by about one-third with the merger, he said.

In 2011, Hennepin County completed 1,350 of the 4,059 cases referred to its office, he said. Hennepin County does between 750 and 800 autopsies per year, he said.

Dakota County received 1,036 referrals of cases in 2011, 1,117 cremation approvals and 197 post-mortem exams, Thomas said.

Scott County received 295 cases, 288 cremation approvals and 50 post-mortem cases, she said.

Now that the merger is approved, Thomas said they are waiting to hear the decisions of the other counties from MRMEO.

“That’s a really big issue for us, because we’re really eager to find out. We want to have continuity of service,” she said.

Carver and Chisago counties may be partnering with the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office, operated by Anoka County.

Rossman said the Hennepin County facility has the capacity to be the site of more medical examiner offices overall.

“We’re a large organization and teaching facility and we produce forensic pathologists. Regionalizing is a great idea to cover the needs locally,” Rossman said.