Local Government

County Commission Debates Use of Lansing-Based Medical Examiner

Andrew Trzaska | November 27, 2012

The Muskegon County Commission’s appointment of the County Medical Examiner at Tuesday’s meeting drew both minor controversy and positive testimony.

The issue: Joyce DeJong, DO, who currently holds the position, operates in Lansing and the county’s contract includes the use of Sparrow Hospital.  The reappointment on Tuesday’s agenda will last through February of 2014.

Outgoing commissioner John Snider immediately raised concerns about the cost of transporting bodies needing examination to Lansing, instead of hiring someone locally to do the job.

“I’ve had quite a number of people contact me about the cost of transportation,” said Snider. “The use of someone local would cost substantially less.”

“I would request that an RFP [request for proposals] be issued to provide those services locally.”

Ken Krause, Director of Public Health for the county expressed the urgency of the matter, because DeJong’s appointment expires at the end of the year; corporate counsel expressed uncertainty that a temporary appointment could be extended beyond December 31 of 2012 to facilitate a last-minute RFP.

Dr. DeJong spoke at Tuesday’s meeting.  She colored her appointment as a matter more of necessity than choice:

“I will be the first to admit it would cost less to do it locally. But there are only about 450 [board certified] forensic pathologists practicing nationally.”

DeJong indicated she currently plays the role of medical examiner for 8 counties and one nation, the Gun Lake Band of Potawatomi Indians. She estimated 125 to 150 bodies are transported per year, and the county estimates costs at about $500 per trip, or a total around $75,000 per year.

Other options for the county were explored by Dr. DeJong’s office. A new forensic pathology center is set to open at Western Michigan University by the time her proposed reappointment would end, just over 15 months from now.  She plans to transfer the county’s cases to the new Kalamazoo center, and estimated Tuesday that this switch could save around $5,000 per year.

County Sheriff Dean Roesler spoke to the “absolute necessity for a good, high quality” medical examiner to assist in county law enforcement.  He endorsed the quality of DeJong’s work for Muskegon County at Tuesday’s meeting:

“Basically you only get one chance, so it has to be done by someone of high caliber with the staffing and structure in place,” said Roesler. “In my 25 years of law enforcement… Dr. DeJong and her staff are probably the best I have ever worked with.”

Dr. DeJong’s reappointment succeeded with a 9-1-1 vote. Commissioner Snider voted against, and outgoing commissioner Anthony Longmire was excused from the meeting.

Snider’s final words at the meeting expressed dissatisfaction with the County’s handling of the reappointment.

“We ought to start earlier on getting those RFPs out.”

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