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New ‘death’ compliance costs may be lower

Cost to Washington County from a larger number of autopsies may not be as high as originally thought, commissioners learned during their April 28 meeting.
“At one point, we were looking at an extra $300,000 per year,” Mayor Dan Eldridge reminded commissioners during his update.
A new rule from the state medical examiner regarding unattended deaths, which went into effect at the end of November 2013, is the largest unfunded mandate in years, according to County Attorney Keith Bowers.
Chapter 1200-36-01: Investigation of deaths resulting from opiate, illegal or illicit drug overdose requires a new set of data that must be recorded by investigators who are licensed emergency medical technicians, paramedics, registered nurses, physician’s assistants or persons registered by a diplomat of the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators and approved by the county medical examiner.
The new requirements prevent the Washington County Sheriff’s Office from serving as deputy coroner. In January, commissioners approved transitioning the responsibilities to EMS and allocated $78,000 in new spending for start-up expenses, including two new staff positions, training, equipment and a coroner vehicle.
The largest expense was expected to come from the significant increase in the number of autopsies that will be required under the new criteria, which focuses on the suspicion of drug use as a factor in the death.
Eldridge said county leaders have since been working with the forensic center at the James H. Quillen Veterans Affairs Medical Center, a division of the East Tennessee State University Department of Pathology.
“We are very near to knowing what the cost will be,” he said.
While Washington County will still incur approximately $80,000 annually for EMS to conduct the death investigations, a plan with ETSU and all eight surrounding counties should reduce the expense from the additional autopsies. “There will still be a cost, but it will only be a fraction of the original amount expected,” Eldridge said.
“Is there any chance of getting this overturned?” Commissioner David Shanks asked.
Eldridge said the rule from the state medical examiner is now law, and despite many meetings and appeals to legislators and state officials, the county has been told there is no interest in revisiting the topic.