Lubbock County Medical Examiner will soon charge for storage of human remains

Published: Dec. 27, 2021 at 9:02 PM CST
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - The Lubbock Medical Examiner’s office is getting overwhelmed with cases. Bodies often remain at the office for months, because families either cannot afford to move them to a final resting place, or have a hard time deciding on that next step.

The backlog is not strictly due to the pandemic, or any increase in crime.

Bambi Trevino is the office manager for the Lubbock County Medical Examiner.

Trevino presented the case for a fee structure to county commissioners on Monday morning, to start charging families and hospitals who have left remains with the ME for more than five days.

“A lot of the people that we talk to, they just don’t want to deal with the body,” Trevino said. “They want to wait until we’ve moved on to the next step, which is often times GA, then they want to handle the remains.”

“It kind of feels like, ‘Well the ME’s office is not going to charge; just call them and they’ll pick it up.’ So we want to compel them to help us convince the families to initiate that process,” Trevino said.

That charge would be $75 a day when the office holds a body longer than five days.

The policy would charge whoever asks the office to intake the remains, whether it’s a family, a hospital, or a hospice care provider.

“They’re the ones who will call us saying, ‘The family don’t have any arrangements made, we don’t have anywhere to store these remains, we need you to come pick up.’ ‘Ok, we’ll pick up, you have five days to handle those remains with the family.’”

“If you’ve ever had a loved one die, there’s no more difficult or painful experience than to argue about which casket, which funeral home, which cemetery, and on and on and on,” Commissioner Jason Corley said, “but they’re not having to pay for it. If this turns into a $75 charge per day, against the estate for delaying.”

The commissioners support the proposal, but not without some hesitation when it comes to the legal side of things.

Neal Burt with the Lubbock County District Attorney’s Office said, “We need the auditor’s office, the treasurer’s office, the wings that are going to be collecting this, what happens when we create uncollectable debt on behalf of the county? What happens when we create debt that bounces back to our hospital district, whether that’s even prudent or possible to begin with.”

In the end, commissioners approved the measure four to one, with Judge Curtis Parrish dissenting. Parrish wanted to wait on final approval, until all those meetings were held, but generally agreed with the fee structure.

Approving $10 million for a new medical examiner’s facility passed unanimously. That money will be coming from the American Rescue Plan.

Commissioner Chad Seay said, “We’re currently renting, any time we want to do changes out there, we have to get permission from Texas Tech, which has been a problem. Even just moving cameras around, we had some issues. We have cold storage outside, which, everything needs to be brought inside, and it’s a really old office. Eventually, we want to get our own pathologist out here, and as Lubbock grows, it’s not going to be cost-effective to keep sending our bodies to Tarrant County. So by building this state of the art place, it’s going to be kind of a recruitment tool to bring someone extremely good here who wants to work with the newest technology.”

The work on that facility will begin as soon as possible, sending out requests for quotes and seeking out firms to design and build the facility.

The county’s fee structure for body handling is set to go into effect on Feb. 1.

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