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County working out medical examiner kinks
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Offering a new service in the community, that of medical examiner investigator, could be initially troublesome for the county.
“Has any of this been discussed with the county’s medical examiner?” Warren County Executive John Pelham asked Warren County EMS director Brian Jennings during Monday’s meeting of the Safety Committee.
After receiving a “no” from Jennings, Pelham added, “I just don’t want him to hear we are discussing this without him knowing about it first.”
What the county is attempting to do is offer the service of medical examiner investigator, which is an extension of the medical examiner’s office. Four members of the county EMS department received training last month that qualified them as medical examiner investigators. The county’s medical examiner is Dr. Charles Morgan.
Formerly called a coroner, the medical examiner investigators can establish probable cause of death, calculate the time of death, and pronounce death at the scene when an individual is found deceased. Individuals who are determined to have died naturally are released to a funeral home immediately. The medical examiner is called to investigate cases where foul play is suspected.
Leading to the concern was information obtained by Jennings and offered at the meeting regarding the county’s powers when it comes to medical examiner investigators.
Along with being told by the state’s chief medical examiner Tennessee is a “coroner free” state when it comes to establishing the office and electing someone, the “county medical examiner shall be appointed by the county mayor, subject to confirmation by the county legislative body, from a field of at least two doctors.”
“The county court has to have a choice,” said Jennings. “You can’t just present one name. You have to have at least two. Then, the court has to vote. Another name has come to me. I haven’t spoken to him yet so I don’t know if he is interested. To be compliant with that, I think we should go ahead and have two candidates ready.”
Pelham says he feels uneasy about making plans for the medical examiner’s office without first discussing it with the medical examiner.
“Last month we discussed and approved medical examiner investigator training without discussing it with him,” said Pelham. “I just don’t want to send the wrong message with these conversations. I think we should at least reach out to him as our medical examiner.”
The new service will eliminate the responsibility of the medical examiner to evaluate every death in the county, except those that are suspicious. The change is being viewed as a benefit for the medical examiner, a licensed physician.
“They can prevent the medical examiner from being called at 2 in the morning to a scene,” said Commissioner Les Trotman. “Medical examiner investigators can pronounce and take the information to the medical examiner the next day. What does the county pay for that service? Is it $20 per visit? I don’t know any working physician that will do that. This service would relieve them of that burden.”
Jennings said he would make attempts to contact Morgan to discuss the county’s new service and the county’s responsibility when choosing a medical examiner.