Brazos County leaders discuss next steps in forming new medical examiners office

Brazos County leaders discuss next steps in forming new medical examiners office
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BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) – It’s long been a desire for officials to bring a medical examiner’s facility to Brazos County. For more than a decade county leaders have discussed the possibility but the timing wasn’t quite right.

Over 200 autopsies are outsourced to the Travis County Medical Examiners office in Austin every year. The Travis County MEO currently serves Brazos and 45 other counties with their death-related investigations, since they may include an autopsy to determine the cause and manner of death.

County leaders say a toxicology lab and medical examiner’s office are long overdue and vital to the public health and safety of residents. Commissioners say with 45 other counties all relying on Travis County for autopsy results it creates a backlog of cases, leaving families and law enforcement waiting. Having a local facility would give law enforcement officers the ability to stay local and not have to travel back and forth to Austin to witness the procedures or process evidence. Most importantly county leaders say a facility here would save time, resources, and money.

County commissioners were presented with a needs assessment at Tuesday’s commissioner’s court meeting as they move one step closer to making that goal a reality.

The 16,000-square foot facility would have the capabilities to perform over 400 autopsies per year from not only Brazos County but surrounding counties as well. Should Brazos County open a medical examiner’s office, surrounding counties like Burleson, Grimes, Lee, Milam, Robertson, and Washington could have a closer option for their autopsy services, creating revenue for the county.

Starting out, Brazos County would hire one forensic pathologist, two investigators, and three support positions, with plans of adding an additional forensic pathologist, investigator, and autopsy assistant by 2030.

Initial estimates show the new facility would come with a price tag of $22.5 million, funded in part by the American Rescue Plans Act.

“Whether it’s the [District Attorney] that needs an autopsy done because there’s criminal activity and someone was killed or whether its someone that needs to know what happened to one of their family members, it is about public health and so I think its an excellent use of [ARPA Funds],” said Brazos County Judge Duane Peters.

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The new facility would greatly impact local funeral homes and the families they serve. The professionals at Hilliers Funeral Homes in Bryan and College Station are no stranger to the medical examiner’s office and the long trips back and forth to Austin. Amanda Gittleman is the funeral homes managing partner and funeral director. She says having a facility locally would ease the mind of families and improve logistics.

“Our team travels to and from the Travis County Medical Examiners in Austin where the autopsies are currently performed multiple times a week,” Gittleman said. “More than anything just feeling that their loved one wasn’t taken away is comforting to them.”

Gittleman says her top priority is to meet the needs of the family but a closer facility would be nice.

“For us logistically it would be great to have something locally but we recognize that it’s not about us. It’s about the families,” said Gittleman.

A closer facility would also benefit law enforcement agencies that are closer to Brazos County than Travis County.

“Not having to send the investigator or detectives over to Austin to watch an autopsy over there that keeps them back in the community,” said Peters.

Chris Knorr, the principal forensic market leader for the SmithGroup says after conducting the needs assessment for the county, the region is prime for a medical examiner facility. He says Tuesday’s presentation was an opportunity for the public and the Court to understand more about the results of the study and have a background on the reasons why the project is important for public health.

“The county and the rest of the counties in the valley are at a good point to be able to support at least one medical examiner, chief medical examiner and as the need increases that when an additional forensic pathologist will be required,” said Knorr.

Judge Peters says commissioners could vote to move forward on the project as early as this fall. County leaders hope to have the facility completed by 2026.

Slides of the presentation are below.

Brazos County Commissioners Court Meeting and Medical Examiners presentation below.

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