WilCo commissioners consider adding medical examiner's office

Williamson County commissioners held a workshop May 28 to discuss the option of opening a new medical examiner's office or maintaining its relationship with Travis County's, which is considering funding possibilities for expansion.

Because of growth in the counties the Travis County Medical Examiner's Office serves, the facility is operating at its limit and must move to a larger location to maintain its National Association of Medical Examiners, or NAME, accreditation, according to a presentation representatives from the TCMEO shared with commissioners at the workshop.

Medical examiners step in when alcohol, drugs or violence is involved in a death, or when a cause of death is unknown, said David Dolinak, chief medical examiner in Travis County.

"Not every county has the luxury of a medical examiner's office to investigate deaths," Dolinak said. "We perform autopsies not only for Austin and Travis County, but for 42 other counties in Texas."

Of the autopsies performed by the Travis County office, about a third come from Williamson County, said Danny Hobby, Travis County executive of emergency services.

Because of its high use of the Travis County office, Williamson County commissioners are considering the idea of building their own regional medical examiner's office.

However, because the Travis County office is in the process of finding a way to fund a new building, Williamson County commissioners are also considering maintaining the partnership to save the cost of building their own facility and help Travis County pay for theirs.

Recently, the Travis County office hired six pathologists to stay accredited with NAME. The move required shuffling a number of offices in the 17-year-old building, including repurposing two janitor offices and a locker room, to make room for the new employees, said Sarah Scott, chief administrative officer at the Travis County office.

Williamson County had 258 autopsies performed by the TCMEO in 2012, according to the medical examiner's records. Each cost about $2,600.

"What's really being discussed here is we may have the opportunity to move into [a] partnership that may be cheaper than building our own [office]," Williamson County Judge Dan Gattis said. "Nothing is broken immediately, but somewhere down the line we will have to consider it. The Commissioners Court owes it to taxpayers to look at that."


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