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New contract allows Johnson County to provide out-of-county autopsies

OLATHE, Kan. — Johnson County, Kansas could soon generate extra revenue by providing autopsy services to other counties in Kansas and Missouri. 

Thursday the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) voted 6-0 to approve a Form Autopsy Service Agreement granting the Johnson County Medical Examiner’s Office (MEO) the ability to provide services to outside counties. 

Previously the MEO only provided investigations and examinations for individuals who died either in Johnson County or due to injuries that occurred in Johnson County. 

Under the new agreement Johnson County would be reimbursed for services provided to outside counties based on a set fee schedule approved by the board. 

Johnson County Medical Examiner Dr. Diane Peterson said Reno County is the first to request autopsy services from Johnson County. Peterson anticipates Reno County requiring roughly 80-100 examinations over the course of a year. 

“[In] Our cooler space we have capacity for 80 individuals. Our average census in our cooler is less than 10. We have a lot of capacity, physically speaking, within the building,” Peterson said.

Cost of Service 

In January of 2020, the county hired MGT Consulting Group to conduct a study on the MEO budget and provided recommendations for service fees. 

After review by the County Manager’s Office and Peterson, roughly 40% of the recommendations were removed to account for the cost of the building that was already covered by the Public Safety Sales Tax.

“When this cost study was presented previously, it was made clear to the board this was not a full cost recovery proposal. It got a majority of the costs, but to be fair we didn’t include the capital of the building and things that were already paid for,” Assistant County Manager Joe Connor said. 

The cost of service varies on a case-by-case basis, but county fees have been assigned for things like autopsies, external examinations and toxicology testing. 

Thursday the commission also unanimously approved funding for the MEO to hire an additional full-time autopsy technician.  

“It is able to be funded because of the revenue produced by Reno County, but we had the need for a third position prior to Reno County,” Peterson said.  

Keeping up with demand 

In 2019 the MEO began a campaign to educate hospice agencies, hospitals and law enforcement to ensure deaths were being properly reported. As a result of the outreach campaign, the number of deaths being reported to the MEO more than doubled from 2019 to 2020.

National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) accreditation requires at least 20% of the total deaths within a municipality to be reported to the medical examiner. 

Currently the Johnson County MEO is only open Monday through Friday. Peterson said the additional staff member would allow the MOE to provide examinations on the weekends. That would allow the individual to be moved to a funeral home faster and allow families to see their loved ones sooner.

The county will allocate $41,000 towards the position for the remainder of this fiscal year. During the 2023 fiscal year $72,000 will be budgeted to support the position. 

The new position will be fully funded by revenue generated by autopsy services provided to outside counties. Connor estimates the contract with Reno County will generate roughly $190,000 in annual revenue for Johnson County.