Texas Tech made an announcement that may affect the pocketbooks of Lubbock County residents. Wednesday, the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center President sent a letter to the county saying it will end its medical examiner service in the fall of 2009.
Now county officials have to figure out what they will do to fill that role, and how much it will cost.
Any time detectives need an autopsy for an investigation in Lubbock County, they send the body to Texas Tech. So do about 80 other counties in the state, but soon that will change. The Health Sciences Center decided to no longer contract the county's autopsies.
"While it's a very good community service, it's a very specialized program and it's a very expensive program. It's a program that has a lot of political implications, and we really felt that it was a program that the county would be better off taking over," said the Dean of the Texas Tech School of Medicine, Dr. Steven Berk.
The Health Sciences Center does between 700 and 900 autopsies a year.
"If we have to bring it back in house, and we have to find a facility and equipment personnel and bring them on or whatever, the little over half a million dollars we have budgeted is not going to be enough," said County Commissioner Patti Jones.
She estimates it will now cost at least twice as much, about one to two million dollars. There is a lot to consider if the county must reopen the Medical Examiner's Office.
"How do we want to move forward with this? It could be anything from leasing that facility, whether we have to build a facility, whether or not we can negotiate with Tech about equipment that's out there, whether or not we can acquire any of that. If we're going to have to purchase it, are we going to have to purchase all new equipment? It's endless right now. Just unknowns as to what we've got to do," said Jones.
County officials plan to meet with representatives from the Health Sciences Center next week. They will try to extend the contract at least until October 1st of 2009 instead of September 1st. The county's fiscal year begins October 1st. If the contract ends in September, the county commissioners will have to work those costs into the budget they are currently working on, but if they can hold onto the contract one extra month, they have more time to figure out what they will do about the medical examiners office.
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