Taxpayers are paying thousands extra for autopsies, state lawmak - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Taxpayers are paying thousands extra for autopsies, state lawmakers help

The cost of autopsies has gone up significantly in South Mississippi and the hefty bill is being footed by taxpayers. (Photo source: WLOX) The cost of autopsies has gone up significantly in South Mississippi and the hefty bill is being footed by taxpayers. (Photo source: WLOX)
SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) -

The cost of autopsies has gone up significantly in South Mississippi and the hefty bill is being footed by taxpayers.

For more than 30 years, South Mississippi relied on a local pathologist to perform autopsies. When he died on January 10, 2015, the cost of autopsies increased dramatically. That's because autopsies are now being done mainly in Jackson at the State Medical Examiner's Office.

"The dynamics of what we do has completely changed from picking the phone up, calling doc, doc coming over to do the autopsy, having the results, getting the toxicology done, getting everything done within three to four weeks, paperwork included," Harrison County Coroner Gary Hargrove said. "We are now working under the state system, as we should be, and that just takes time."

It also takes extra money for transporting the bodies. In Jackson County, the increase has been $850 per autopsy. Coroner Vicki Broadus said since January she has had around 40 autopsies costing taxpayers an estimated $34,000 extra.

In Hancock County, autopsies cost an extra $775 each. Coroner Jim Faulk said he has had six sent to Jackson, which has cost taxpayers an additional $4,650.

Harrison County costs per autopsy are up $490. Since January 10, 2015, Hargrove has had 27 autopsies completed; 23 of those were sent to Jackson. For the other four, State Medical Examiner's employees came to Biloxi. Hargrove said State Medical Examiner Dr. Mark LeVaughn has tried to help local coroners cut costs.

"He is doing everything he can within his power to facilitate the Coast. Is he going to come down here right now and do every case? No," Hargrove said. "He has to look at all 82 counties, which includes the north, central, and south part of the state."

Hargrove was able to get transport costs down last week by having the county award a contract for transports. Still, taxpayers have had to pay an estimated $15,000 extra since January for autopsies.

With autopsies being done hours away from South Mississippi, it prevents coroners from attending the autopsies, and it's also costing law enforcement agencies to send investigators.

"With Dr. McGarry, I attended every autopsy and investigators attended those autopsies also. That has changed," Hargrove said. "Now, if it was a special case where I felt like my attendance was needed for a specific reason, I would go up with investigators. The investigators still go to do the autopsies."

The huge increase in costs prompted Hargrove and other local coroners to get together with the local district attorneys and push for funding to have a full time pathologist at the Biloxi Medical Examiner's Office, which sits mostly empty. Together, they voiced their concerns to state legislators.

"It came to our attention there was an issue because there was no pathologist just designated by the Medical Examiner's Office for South Mississippi," Senator Sean Tindell said. "There was a delay in time. There was a cost fear of what it was going to cost and the biggest concern, though, was the hamper it could do to criminal investigations."

Senators Tindell, Tommy Gollott, Philip Moran, Brice Wiggins, Angela Hill, Tony Smith and Michael Watson introduced a bill in the state legislature to get a pathologist at the Biloxi State Medical Examiner's Office. That bill ended up dying in the state House of Representatives, but Senator Tindell said they didn't give up.

"Myself and Senator Wiggins met with the director of public safety and the state medical examiner," Tindell said. "We expressed our concerns why we felt like there was a need for a pathologist dedicated to South Mississippi, and we were advised if we could come up with a certain amount of money from appropriations, they would designate a pathologist to South Mississippi."

The senators were able to convince other lawmakers the money was needed. Funding will be available beginning on July 1st for the Mississippi Medical Examiner's Office to hire a pathologist and two other staff members to man the Biloxi office.

"It's just one of those great days in the legislature where you really feel like you've done something good for your local community. So we were happy to get it done," Tindell said.

Leaders at the State Medical Examiner's Office said they are appreciative for the funding and look forward to hiring people to fill the positions at the Biloxi office.

Once a pathologist is in place, the extra transport costs will go away and coroners will again be able to attend autopsies.

"It will take a big burden off of all of us once we get it done and get that facility open," Hargrove said.

Copyright 2015 WLOX. All rights reserved.

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