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No local coroner available: Kandiyohi County turns to medical examiner’s office for services

WILLMAR — With no one local to take over the county coroner position, Kandiyohi County is turning to the metro area for the services of a medical examiner.

The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners received the news Tuesday that the current coroner, Dr. Richard Kacher, is retiring next month, leaving the position vacant as of Feb. 2.

Replacing him with another local appointment is proving difficult, Sheriff Dan Hartog told the board.

"We're dealing with trying to get someone else," he said.

But with few candidates able or willing to take the position, Hartog is recommending a contract with the Midwest Medical Examiner's Office of Anoka County to provide the service.

The county coroner manages the investigation of deaths that are unattended or unwitnessed and deaths that are potentially suspicious or involve circumstances such as negligence, accident or violence.

Although coroners in many jurisdictions are elected and are not necessarily required to undergo medical training, the position in Kandiyohi County has been an appointed one for many years and has generally been held by a physician.

Many counties are increasingly turning to medical examiner offices, however, which are staffed by trained pathologists and have forensic capabilities that bring a higher level of expertise to death investigations.

The Midwest Medical Examiner's Office has handled previous forensic investigations for Kandiyohi County and it has been a positive working relationship, Hartog said. "They have been very good to work with over the years we have needed them."

He anticipates having a proposed contract to bring to the County Board Feb. 6 for action.

It likely will cost the county $150 a month, plus $2,000 per autopsy whenever one is required or recommended. The medical examiner's office also can provide training and education for local law enforcement and the county attorney's office, Hartog said.

It's an important service that Kandiyohi County must continue to provide, he said. Although the majority of deaths investigated by the county coroner don't involve foul play, the number of unattended deaths has been rising as the county's population gets older, he said. "There are more of those calls."

County officials had hoped to find a new coroner who is local.

"That was our first preference," said Larry Kleindl, county administrator.

A local pathologist had expressed interest in the position but was unable to find a backup person who could share the on-call duties, he said.

Many Minnesota counties, especially those that are small and rural, are experiencing the same issue, Kleindl said.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at http://healthbeat.areavoices.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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