Sharing Hennepin medical examiner office with Dakota, Scott Counties a win-win

  • Article by: LAURIE BLAKE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 24, 2014 - 1:56 PM

Dakota and Scott see improved response. Hennepin also pleased with arrangement.

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“We are trying to show it’s good business practice and good government’’ to make the best use of a specialized public service, Andrew Baker, the Hennepin County medical examiner said.

Photo: Richard Sennott • Star Tribune file,

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Eighteen months after revamping the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s office to serve Dakota and Scott Counties, Chief Medical Examiner Andrew Baker says combined staff, systems and data are working as one and 86 percent of calls get responses within 60 minutes.

People expect rapid response because all deaths outside a medical facility must be reported to a medical examiner’s office, which decides whether it merits investigation.

If a case is selected for investigation and a body must be examined, “the goal is to be there as quickly as you possibly can every time,’’ Baker said. “Ninety percent of the time we are there in less than 90 minutes.’’

Having Dakota and Scott contract for medical examiner’s service from Hennepin is “working extremely well from the point of view of people who work here in my office,” Baker said. The office is in downtown Minneapolis.

The two partner counties seem to agree.

The examiner’s office performs autopsies for the Dakota County attorney’s office in the event of a homicide and “from our perspective the services from Dr. Baker’s office have been very good,’’ said Karen Schaffer, first assistant county attorney.

From Scott County, Baker said he has received “nothing but positive comments’’ from County Administrator Gary Shelton.

More expansion?

Baker would be open to expanding the office further as a regional center. By August, he is expecting a consultant’s report on whether it will need a new facility by 2020.

The size of the current building and the state of its equipment will be compared with the industry standard. If a new facility will be needed, that could lead to discussions about future expansion as a large regional medical examiner’s office with a mobile investigative workforce, he said.

There has been no financial benefit to Hennepin from the medical examiner arrangement and Hennepin has no wish to subsidize the other two counties, Baker said.

“In that sense we are trying to keep this revenue neutral. We are trying to show it’s good business practice and good government’’ to make the best use of a specialized public service.

Dakota County will pay Hennepin County about $1.1 million for 2014. Scott will pay about $364,450.

Dakota and Scott contracted with the Hennepin Medical Examiner’s office in January 2013, after an arrangement dissolved between eight counties sharing a medical examiner’s office in the basement of the Hastings Regional Medical Center.

Forensic pathology is an extremely rare medical specialty, so it made sense for the three counties to consolidate under one roof, Baker said. “I have a nationally accredited office here.’’

Former employees from the Hastings office joined the Hennepin County office and that has gone well, Baker said.

Last year, the examiner opened a satellite office in Dakota County’s western service center in Apple Valley so that locations in Dakota and Scott could be reached more quickly than from the downtown Minneapolis office. No Scott County office has been contemplated based on its smaller population and less expedient response times, Baker said.

For Dakota County, the service has performed as expected, said Matt Smith, deputy county administrator. “The financial and business arrangement is working out the way we wanted it to.’’

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