Clark County medical examiner says unnatural deaths on the rise, proposes new fees

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In Washington, a medical examiner assumes jurisdiction for deaths in certain circumstances and must provide medicolegal death investigation and forensic pathology services to determine cause and manner of death. Examples of when jurisdiction applies includes when someone in apparent good health dies suddenly, there are suspicious circumstances such as homicide or suicide, and deaths of incarcerated persons, premature/stillborn infants or unclaimed decedents.

Without additional funding for the department, Pruett said there could be slower response times, especially if an investigator is needed at more than one scene, as well as longer wait times for completed case reports. Pruett said that would not only frustrated community members waiting for autopsy outcomes but could cost the county its National Association of Medical Examiners accreditation, which in turn could put state reimbursements for exams at risk.

“There’s only so much compression the team will be able to manage until we start impacting other law enforcement, allied service operations, in the community,” Pruett said. “There will be implications for fire, EMS, law enforcement, and chain of custody.”

Under the proposed fee structure autopsy reports would cost $30, block or slide recuts (a near duplicate of original specimens) would cost $25 per slide plus shipping costs, a photo CD would cost $50 and biological specimens would cost $100 plus shipping.

Additionally, a fee of $70 would go into effect for the medical examiner’s office to process a disposition authorization, which is a legal form that details what happens to a body after it is released by the examiner. The fee would not be charged if the costs of cremation are paid for by the county, such as when a person dies with no known relatives.