New deputy medical examiners a boon


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The hiring of two additional deputy medical examiners is a win-win situation for Johnson County, said Medical Examiner Administrator Mike Hensch.

And taxpayers can take solace in knowing these positions will not create any added expense.

“This is a huge bargain for the county,” he said.

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors approved the hiring of the two medical examiners Jan. 27. That both of the newly hired examiners are forensic pathologists is unique to the state, Hensch said.

“It’s a natural fit,” said Dennis Firchau, a clinical assistant professor of anatomic pathology at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, one of the newly hired deputy medical examiners.

In states with more populated counties, most medical examiners are forensic pathologists, Firchau added.

“I see it as a sign of progress,” he said.

The other recently hired on-call deputy medical examiner, Marcus Nashelsky, also the director of Autopsy Services at the UIHC, said he was glad to have an opportunity to contribute to the “quality” death investigation performed in Johnson County.

Johnson County’s population increased more than 13 percent from 2000 to 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The higher population equates to more deaths, Hensch said, and the rising number of cremations — which his office must verify — also add to the workload.

But Hensch said the hirings did not stem from a shortage of medical examiners.

The two new deputies will be paid a flat rate — approximately $150 per day — when on call.

Although the total number of cases investigated in Johnson County has increased by between 3 and 5 percent each of the last three years, Hensch maintained the spike was not the reasoning behind the added positions. Rather, he said they will act as extra support for the chief medical examiner, Stephen Scheckel.

“They will play a consultative role,” Hensch said.

When needed, the deputy medical examiners will work together with the investigators to conduct tasks such as accessing medical records, reviewing the scene, determining the cause of death, and signing death certificates.

The supervisors said they saw no concerns in the additions and confirmed they would be financially beneficial.

Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said Johnson County is fortunate to have the UIHC in the area.

“This is just one example in which we took advantage of it in a positive way to utilize its resources and capitalize on them on a need we have,” Neuzil said of the hospital.

In 2010, Johnson County medical examiners investigated 576 cases, Hensch said. And as of Jan. 28, 50 cases have been examined in Johnson County so far this year.

“We’re already ahead of schedule,” Hensch said.

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