County contemplating medical examiner options

By Derrick Knutson—

In Chisago County, utilizing the medical examiner’s expertise can turn out to be a time-consuming process, but that could be changing.

Say, for instance, a fatal car crash happens in Chisago County and there’s a suspicious contributing factor that might be involved, such as drugs or vehicle tampering.

In cases where cause of death isn’t always crystal clear or circumstancing surrounding a death are murky, the Sheriff’s Office often has to call in its medical examiner.

Currently, the county partners with seven other counties, most of which are in the south metro, in using medical examiner services from Regina Medical Center in Hastings.

When there’s a suspicious death in Chisago County, the medical examiner often has to drive from Hastings to various parts of Chisago County, a commute that can take over an hour one way.

There are also some deficiencies with Regina Medical Center itself, according to county officials.

The building is ageing, workspace for staff is limited and there are only six coolers in which to store cadavers before autopsies are performed.

In instances where the coolers are full and another body comes in, that body might have to be moved to a different medical center to be stored until an autopsy can be performed.

Clerk of the Chisago County Board DeAnna Lilienthal said the board heard a presentation from the Hennepin County Chief Medical Examiner, Andy Baker, last week that detailed ins and outs of the medical examiner services agreement.

At some point yet to be determined, the board will have to make a decision about if it wants to stay with Regina Medical Center, or perhaps contract with a different facility.

County Attorney Janet Reiter said Chisago County spends about $100,000 on medical examiner services per year, and will need to adhere close to that budget when considering different options.

One option presented to the board at its meeting March 21 was leaving the joint powers agreement with the other seven counties and contracting with Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis.

The Minneapolis facility is newer, staff and visitors have ample space and there’s more room to store cadavers.

Reiter said Hennepin County isn’t the only facility being considered, though.

Ramsey County has a medical center, as does Anoka, which is closer and could end up being more convenient for Chisago County.

Reiter noted there’s no set timeframe right now in which the county has to decide if it wants to pursue a different medical examiner services agreement.

“The board will have to decide which option best serves our needs,” she said.

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