Keweenaw County seeks cost savings in ME Office

Daily Mining Gazette file photo Dr. Janice Heikenen, Keweenaw County’s deputy medical examiner, discussed proposed costs for the Medical Examiner’s Office at a recent County Board meeting.

EAGLE RIVER — Discussion of the cost of the Medical Examiner’s Office resumed at the Keweenaw County Board’s meeting last week, but no action was taken.

“Since last month’s meeting, we had a small subcommittee meet,” said Dr. Janice Heikenen during a presentation, “and we came out with a proposed budget, again with the goal being Keweenaw County-based, a sustainable system for the future, and something that would be cost-effective for the county.”

What came out of the meeting, she said, was a proposal for a staff of four people, which would include a medical examiner, a deputy medical examiner and two medical examiner investigators.

“This would provide 24/7 coverage to the county,” Heikenen said, “and the cost that is proposed, $11,500 per year.”

This would include staff, office expenses and continuing education, she added.

There would be, Heikenen cautioned, an initial training cost, because two of the four individuals have not gone through the standard training for medical examiner investigations. The estimated cost was $3,500.

“I did not include the medical costs for the cases, because that’s just variable, and for the most part, have little or no control over what the expenses are going to be. It just depends on the case, if it goes to court and all that.”

Board member Jim Vivian asked if there was mandatory training required for the investigators.

“Statewide, there is very little regulation in terms of mandatory requirements,” Heikenen said. “There is currently a task force through the state we’re working on having some standardized guidelines. At this point in time, there is nothing other than what’s recommended is going through the courses that are available nationwide, usually a week-long course that goes over the different guidelines for scene investigation.”

The board tabled the issue of a Medical Examiner’s Office in December after Dr. David Gilbert retired after 42 years and recommended Heikenen as his replacement.

Board members deferred a decision until an estimated cost to the county could be determined.