- Associated Press - Sunday, May 17, 2015

ELKHART, Ind. (AP) - A northern Indiana county is outsourcing autopsies to Michigan following the resignation of the area’s only forensic pathologist, a move the coroner believes is the best long-term solution even though it could cost thousands of dollars more a year.

Elkhart County Coroner John White said the facility 56 miles away in Kalamazoo, Michigan, is a better option because it has four pathologists. He told the Elkhart Truth (https://bit.ly/1F7aLF3 ) that having only one pathologist means autopsies are delayed on weekends and holidays and when the pathologist takes vacation or is out of town for required continuing education classes.

The county is still considering what to do following the May 1 resignation of Dr. Joseph Prahlow. Prahlow had performed autopsies for almost all criminal cases, suspected overdoses and cases that could end up in civil court, such as car crashes and potential cases of medical malpractice, in Elkhart and St. Joseph counties since 1999 through the South Bend Medical Foundation.

There is a proposal to hire a new forensic pathologist and start a forensic center in either St. Joseph or Elkhart county, but the project can’t launch without approval from both county councils, said Bob King, the foundation’s senior vice president.

White said he believes the facility in Kalamazoo is the best value for Elkhart County. At the facility, which opened last summer, the cost of the autopsy includes all necessary additional procedures, including X-rays, dental analysis, toxicology and DNA testing. Previously, Elkhart County had to outsource some of these services.

With a local pathologist, the average cost of an autopsy last year was $2,250, White said. At Kalamazoo, the county will pay $2,500 per case, including all necessary tests and analysis. Transporting the body to the facility with a deputy coroner will add $390 per case. That adds up to an annual increase of about $45,000.

White estimated autopsies and transportation costs at the South Bend center would total $3,719 per case, $829 more than the county will pay at Kalamazoo.

“It’s a little higher than Kalamazoo, but the service is better because it’s local,” King countered. Having the pathologist in the area would make them more available to consult with local prosecutors and law enforcement officials in criminal cases, he said.

To start work on a new local center, King said, both counties would need to agree to send all their autopsies to the foundation’s center for 10 years.

The foundation is working to find a new pathologist, but officials say it will be difficult to persuade one to take the job without a forensic center.

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Information from: The Elkhart Truth, https://www.elkharttruth.com

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