More cases and calls continue to pour into Anoka County’s Midwest Medical Examiner’s office in Ramsey, fueling the decision to add a fourth pathologist and expand an investigator position to keep up with the growing workload.
The office now contracts with 23 counties in an area stretching from the South Dakota border to Canada, and includes three counties in Wisconsin. Big Stone County on the far western fringe of Minnesota will be the latest addition starting Jan. 1, said Gary Alberts, the facility’s administrator.
It’s been a story of steady growth since the state-of-the-art Anoka County facility was built in 2008. The 13-person staff in Ramsey now runs one of the largest medical examiner’s offices in the state.
Since 2013, at least five new counties have been added, including St. Louis County, Alberts said.
“We’re getting pretty saturated north of Anoka County,” County Administrator Jerry Soma said in a committee meeting last week. “You look at that north end, and there’s not much left.”
The Medical Examiner’s Office, part of the administration department, performs about 900 autopsies a year, compared with about 560 five years ago. The growing caseload spurred a national search for a fourth pathologist and resulted in the hiring of Dr. Veena Singh from New Mexico.
Singh has about 12 years of experience and began work in May, Alberts said. She joins Chief Medical Examiner Dr. A. Quinn Strobl as well as Drs. Anne Bracey and Rebecca Asch-Kendrick.
“We are lucky,” Alberts said at Thursday’s meeting. “We have four really good doctors, and they’re all board-certified forensic pathologists. Not everybody has that.”
With a new doctor in the mix, there’s now room for even more growth, he said.
As the number of contracts continues to increase, the call volume has more than doubled in recent years, from 3,964 in 2013 to 8,246 last year, county documents show.
Expanding an office investigator position will help the office shoulder that growth, Alberts said. The staffing boost had been planned for next year but now must be addressed sooner, he said, and the change will go before the County Board for final approval later this month.
Investigators from the Medical Examiner’s Office typically field calls, work with police, go to the death scene and help determine how a case is going to be handled, Alberts said. In Anoka County, they also are trained to assist doctors in the autopsy room.
“The investigator is sort of the eyes of the pathologist,” Alberts said.