Kitsap County News

Kitsap County takes first steps in possible transition from coroner to medical examiner5/30/2019

Kitsap County took the first steps in possibly transitioning from an elected coroner to an appointed medical examiner. County Commissioners approved a resolution May 29, creating job classifications for the hiring of a forensic pathologist and an autopsy technician.

Kitsap County Coroner Jeff Wallis, elected in 2018, has advocated for hiring an appointed medical examiner and possibly eliminating the elected coroner position. Rather than contracting out for forensic pathology services to perform autopsies, moving services inhouse should result in cost savings and provide more accountability over autopsies – examinations that determine causes of sudden, unexpected, violent, suspicious or unnatural deaths.

“The approval of this resolution not only moves us one step closer to the complete professionalization of this office, but it provides a cost savings that will allow us to fix numerous items in our facility that are either inoperable or outdated,” said Coroner Wallis. “Once hired, Kitsap County residents will have the benefit of a full-time doctor staffing this office to not only perform inhouse services for death investigation, but to also more closely work with our community partners in identifying, addressing, and planning for our community’s needs, as well as improving the training levels of our existing staff.”

The new job classifications were created to identify the skills, expertise and competencies staff will need to perform death investigations. Coroner Wallis also asked that the resolution to hire the two new positions, which is accommodated by the current budget, take effect immediately but on limited terms that will allow him time to evaluate whether the change is cost efficient and effective in the longer term.

Kitsap County would not only perform its own autopsies but could also contract with neighboring counties to perform the services, generating revenue to help cover staffing costs. The Kitsap County Coroner’s Office 2019 budget is just under $1.4 million with anticipated revenue of $60,000.

“Coroner Wallis gave Commissioners a compelling argument about why we should bring this resource inhouse instead of contracting it out and we are supporting him in getting these first steps in place that will allow us to better assess the costs and benefits of restructuring the Coroner’s Office,” noted Commissioner Ed Wolfe, chair of the County Commissioners.

The coroner is an elected official responsible for conducting death investigations and administrative oversight. He is supported by a staff of deputy coroners that are nationally certified medico-legal death investigators who assist in death scene investigations. The official also provides education on preventing deaths, working with organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and Survivors of Suicide.

The transition to a medical examiner from an elected coroner needs the approval of voters and County Commissioners and can only be implemented when the population exceeds 250,000. The population today is estimated to be over 268,000.

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