The cost to Franklin County for medical examiner services will increase by $100,000 for 2018 and there is little or nothing officials can do to stop it.
For the past 23 years, St. Louis University (SLU) has provided medical examiner services on more than 13,000 deaths at the request of Franklin County, averaging about $350 per case.
The price for those services has consistently increased by $10,000 per year since 2011.
For 2017, Franklin County agreed to pay SLU $288,055 for medical examiner services. The proposed price for 2018 is $388,876.
At a meeting last week, SLU officials told Franklin County commissioners their rates were going up significantly and the usual price of $300 per autopsy, would rise to $1,000.
Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer said he knew when SLU asked to speak to them before renewing the contract, the county was going to take a hit.
“They told us their costs for morgue services was skyrocketing and they had to pass it along,” Griesheimer said. “We can’t just swallow this anymore. They’ve really got us in a corner.” He added the importance of credible medical examiners in court cases where expert testimony can mean the difference between convictions and acquittals.
In 2016, Franklin County paid $18,500 for morgue services and the projected cost for 2018 is $72,150.
Last year, SLU pathologists performed 29 autopsies and 47 exams on bodies from Franklin County deaths.
For 2017, SLU projected it would perform 33.5 autopsies and 34 exams for the county.
Griesheimer said projections for 2018 are 37 autopsies and 37 exams.
He added SLU currently staffs two forensic pathologists.
“We are looking at any and all options,” Griesheimer said. “We are going to have to find our own pathologist and medical doctor. Forensic pathologists aren’t a dime a dozen and you can’t just hire them off the street.”
Griesheimer added he discussed the issue with his counterparts in Jefferson, St. Charles and St. Louis counties, who also contract medical examiner services from SLU.
He said Jefferson County is looking at a $200,000 increase.
With all four counties in the same situation, one option may be for the counties to work together to lower the price, or find services elsewhere.
“Banding together might be the best route,” Griesheimer said. “I can’t really divulge the details. but we’ve reached out in a few areas. We are looking for answers and options.”