By Associated Press - Friday, September 5, 2014

DETROIT (AP) - The University of Michigan has agreed to manage the operations of the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office as part of an effort to improve service to Detroit and some of its suburbs while making the office a premier learning and forensic facility, officials said.

The Wayne County Commission on Thursday approved a three-year, $16.7 million contract for the office, which conducts around 2,500 forensic examinations a year. The office has faced criticism for long response times, delays in autopsies and understaffing.

The problems “for all practical purposes, will disappear” under the new arrangement, Medical Examiner Carl Schmidt told The Detroit News.

Under the agreement, Wayne County will continue to appoint the chief medical examiner. The county said its staff in the office, which includes 19 employees, will be offered the opportunity to become employees of the University of Michigan Health System. The office’s operations will remain in Detroit.

The agreement takes effect Oct. 1. Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano said in a statement that the agreement will further expand and enhance improvements and academic programs at the office, which has partnered with the University of Michigan Health System since 2011.

“Our collaborative partnership … has resulted in cost savings, increased productivity and new educational opportunities for pathologists,” Ficano said.

Jeffrey L. Myers, director of Anatomic Pathology and MLabs at the University of Michigan’s Department of Pathology, said the expanded partnership will “allows us to better serve the citizens and families of the county while building a national center of excellence in forensic pathology.”

The school also will be able to expand its pathology programs and recruit and train physicians. Schmidt said the medical examiner’s office will benefit.

“The big picture here is even though we’re a small part of the county’s operation we’re also one that can generate a lot of bad news if something difficult happens,” Schmidt said. “It will be one of the few departments in the country able to provide all pathology services under one roof.”

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