Morgue authority hires forensic pathologist

BIG RAPIDS — After months of searching, the West Michigan Forensic Pathology Services Authority approved the hiring of a forensic pathologist, Dr. Daniel Schultz, who will perform autopsies for eight different counties in the region.

Schultz, who is expected to start Feb. 1, will start at a base rate of $262,500, which covers 70 separate autopsies, divided between Lake, Oceana, Mecosta, Newaygo, Montcalm, Clare, Wexford and Osceola counties.

Mecosta County Administrator Paul Bullock, who serves on the authority board, said the hiring will save the county thousands of dollars annually in overtime and travel costs currently being paid to county EMS workers, who travel to morgues in Grand Rapids and Flint when autopsies are needed. He added the hiring puts an end to a search that began in the summer.

Schultz will work out of the autopsy facility in the county services building on Northland Drive that was built four years ago. Bullock said Schultz lives in the Tampa, Florida, area, but will fly to work on his own dime several days per week. It’s a long trip, Bullock acknowledged, made necessary by the dearth of qualified forensic pathologists in the country.

“Frankly, our problem was finding someone to commit to us. My understanding is there are approximately 500 qualified forensic pathologists in the United States. There are 24 or 25 in Michigan. When you have that kind of shortage, it leads you to get creative and figure out how best to fill your position,” Bullock said.

“Dr. Schultz is triple-board certified, which means he’s very qualified. It will cost less for us to get our autopsies done here. Ultimately, it’s a win for us and the entire county.”

Out of the roughly 200 deaths every year in Mecosta County, about 20 normally require an autopsy, said Mecosta County EMS director Tim Ladd. 2018 was a bit of an anomaly, he added, as only eight deaths in the county required autopsies.

State law requires counties to have a medical examiner employed or contracted, but does not require a forensic pathologist. The hope in contracting a forensic pathologist in Mecosta County, Bullock said, is to have an expert on hand to determine cause of death in suspicious situations.

Ladd said he hopes more counties will join the morgue authority in the future, which could bring down the cost of the forensic pathologist to each individual county.

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Posted by Tim Rath

Tim is the Pioneer's associate editor. He also coordinates the Family & Friends, Religion and Veterans pages. He can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8386 or by e-mail at trath@pioneergroup.com.

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