Officials approve Osceola County’s bid to join morgue authority

BIG RAPIDS — The number of members of the West Michigan Forensic Pathology Services (WMFPS) Authority has more than doubled in just a few months.

Authority board members unanimously approved Osceola County’s petition to join the authority during its meeting on Wednesday afternoon at the Mecosta County Services Building in Big Rapids.

BULLOCK

The addition of Osceola County brings the total number of authority members to eight.

Osceola County joins Mecosta, Newaygo, Montcalm, Clare, Oceana, Wexford and Lake counties, as a regional group of counties collaborating together to establish a full-service, nationally-accredited morgue so autopsy services can be provided for residents of those counties. In all, counties in the authority have a combined population of more than 278,000.

While the addition of Osceola County is another step in the process for the authority, members spent much of Wednesday’s meeting discussing the need to get the WMFPS Authority Morgue, located at the Mecosta County Services Building, fully operational.

Lisa Kaspriak, administrator of Mid-Michigan Medical Examiner Group, outlined three possible options board authority members could explore in order to staff the morgue in Big Rapids. Based on recent numbers among the counties of the authority, an estimated 75 autopsies would need to be done annually at the morgue.

Through discussion with peers and forensic pathologists, Kaspriak said the annual salary of a board-certified forensic pathologist would be around $190,000, not including benefits. However, the average number autopsies and the current population of authority members may not support a full-time forensic pathologist yet, she added.

During recent discussion, Kaspriak explained there are pro’s and con’s if officials decide to focus on an agreement between Western Michigan University’s Medical School (WMED) or Sparrow Health System to provide a forensic pathologist.

“The pro’s to that are shared costs and some savings,” she said. “The con’s are (the authority) will be working with a hospital-based service and have that bureaucracy to deal with.”

Several WMFPS Authority board members expressed concern about a possible arrangement with a hospital-bases forensic pathology service.

Another option to look at, Mecosta County Administrator and WMFPS Authority board member Paul Bullock said, is looking at utilizing a forensic pathology service such as WMED on a per diem basis.

“On a per diem basis and the price is right for us, it makes sense,” Bullock said. “It has to work for us.”

As discussion continued, authority board members Patrick Carr, Montcalm County commissioner, Robert H. Walker, Oceana County commissioner, and Chris Wren, Newaygo County administrator, said it’s time the authority focus on hiring a forensic pathologist.

“We ultimately want our own forensic pathologist,” Carr said. “Our concentration should focus on how much more than what we have already is needed to go for it.”

Walker said, “We need to start looking to hire a forensic pathologist. We need an assessment of what it is going to cost.”

Echoing the recognizable quote from the film “Field of Dreams,” Dr. Paul Wagner, medical examiner for many of the counties in the authority, said, “If you build it, they will come. There is talk out there about this, more than there was a month ago. I’m actually getting phone calls about the morgue and that’s encouraging.”

While the exact costs aren’t known for a forensic pathologist, autopsy assistant and administrative and clerical employee, members agreed for a committee comprised of Wren, Bullock, Clare County Administrator Tracy Byard and Wexford County Commissioner Mike Bengelink, will meet to come up with numbers to present to the boards of commissioners of members’ counties to discuss the up-front costs of staffing the WMFPS Authority Morgue.

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Posted by Brandon Fountain

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