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Rock County looks to Dane County for medical examiner

Officer has been without full-time coroner since November

Rock County looks to Dane County for medical examiner

JANESVILLE, Wis. - Rock County may soon be looking to Dane County for medical examiner services, after the current county coroner's elected term is finished the first of next year.

Assistant to the Rock County Administrator Randy Terronez said after years of concerns with how the Coroner's Office operates, this year county board officials decided to eliminate the Rock County coroner position and transition to a medical examiner.

"There has been a certain amount of controversy in the last 10 years or so. There's been concern about how the office was operated. Having it appointed instead of elected where the voters end up deciding who that person is, and through the authority of the county administrator office who would do the hiring, appointment and supervision, that sets up a better of accountability," Terronez said.

On Monday, the Rock County Public Safety and Justice Committee board supervisors were presented with two proposals to consider:

The stand alone option would keep operations in Rock County and include a medical examiner department headed by a non-physician. The county would hire a full-time chief medical examiner, a deputy chief medical examiner and a deputy medical examiner. The proposal would also allow for seven part time deputy medical examiners. Start-up cost for the office would be $18,100 with an annual cost of $573,676.

The second option would involve contracting with the Dane County Medical Examiner's office. Dane County would supply a county medical examiner, deputy medical examiner and a forensic pathologist/physician who would provide management and services for Rock County.

Positions would be contracted with Dane County through an intergovernmental agreement. Rock County would hire three medicolegal investigators, two part-time medicolegal investigators and a part time clerical worker.

The cost to contract through Dane County would involve a start-up cost of $30,164 and an annual cost of $597,789.

Either choice would cost more than the current office. The Rock County Coroner's Office 2014 budget is $458,061. Terronez attributes the increased cost to staffing model changes from per diem deputies to established full-time and part-time staff, as well as an increased number of autopsies.

Tereonez said Rock County currently conducts autopsies on about 11 percent of its case load. Dane County conducts autopsies on about 21 percent.

"Both the Dane County and the single standalone county would be more expensive than our current operation and that's because of the higher level of autopsies that we anticipate will be undertaken," Terronez said.

Gerry Lynch, owner of Whitcomb-Lynch Funeral Home and Cremation Services in Janesville, said after years of working with both Dane County medical examiners and the Rock County coroner he hopes the committee will approve the Dane County proposal.

"Our Coroner's Office has been in disarray for many, many years, especially being it's an elected position. It's an office that has become very technical now and it has outgrown its elected position," Lynch said.

Lynch said fewer employees and per diem deputies make it hard to conduct business in a timely manner.

"We are under deadlines. If an investigator or a per diem is out of the office, it gets delayed when it shouldn't be delayed," Lynch said.

Rock County acting coroner Lou Smit said his office has been without a full-time coroner since last November.

"We've been making due with our per diems in lieu of not having a full-time person, because the county has not allowed us to replace that full-time person," he said.

Smit said he supports transitioning to a medical examiner office, however believes services should be kept within Rock County.

"The whole reason the county board has wanted to have the medical examiner program versus an elected coroner was because the county wanted more oversight. To hand that oversight over to yet another county, in my view, is the opposite of that," Smit said.

Under both proposals, current Rock County coroner employees would be laid off. Smit has submitted a capital improvement plan for the committee to consider, instead of contracting out to Dane County.

"I think we are in a position where we could very quickly see Rock County go from being a subservient county to being a leader, where other counties would be coming to us for service," Smit said.

The Rock County Board of Public Safety and Justice committee asked Monday for staff to prepare a resolution to the contract with the Dane County Medical Examiner's Office. A resolution is scheduled to be presented to the County Board for action on Sept. 11.

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