In an effort to mitigate the economic impact of an absent medical examiner, Richmond County Coroner Mark Bowen is requesting additional funding to help float transportation costs and pay for a part-time employee.
The proposal, which calls for $30,000 generated from the department’s agreement with Georgia Regents Medical Center Tissue Donor Services, will go before the Augusta Commission on Aug. 19.
According to a submittal form attached to Monday’s Finance Committee agenda, the tissue donor service pays $500 each time it uses facilities at the coroner’s office for its services.The service receives donations that would not have been possible otherwise outside of a hospital setting, Bowen said.
As of May 30, $24,000 had been paid and placed into a county account. Another $10,000 is expected to be collected by year’s end.
“This money is just sitting there,” he said. “This is going to help out both my budget and the taxpayers.”
In September 2013, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation ceased performing full autopsies at it’s Phinizy Road lab in Augusta. By October, the lab quit doing external examinations after the retirement of then-Regional Medical Examiner Daniel Brown.
Now, Bowen alternates between two transport services, which charge $500 per round trip, to take bodies to the GBI crime lab in Decatur. His office budgeted about $42,000 this year to transport bodies.
The GBI filled Brown’s position, but it was moved to Atlanta after the agency was unable to find a qualified forensic pathologist willing to live in Augusta, spokeswoman Sherry Lang said in March.
Bowen, like many other coroners affected by the loss of autopsy services in Augusta, is struggling to make due on a budget that was set in place before the GBI’s decision was made.
“We had no way to prepare for that because we had no idea,” he said. “The budget was already done, and we had to make arrangements.”
Bowen said the boost in funding will help to reduce the impact to his budgeted overtime after hiring part-time Deputy Coroner Scott Wheatley. Being one of only four full-service coroner’s offices in the state of Georgia, he said, the Richmond County Coroner’s Office could use all the help it gets.
“We have enough to offset that cost,” he said.