BEAUFORT COUNTY, S.C. (WSAV) — The Beaufort County Coroner’s office just got a big boost to it’s budget.
They have an extra $483,000 dollars for a specific reason, a new pathology department. The first of its kind in the state.
A pathologist’s job is to perform autopsies and get information about the deceased and their cause of death. Any case with an undetermined cause of death, including homicides, suicides and accidental deaths must be covered.
Now, Beaufort County is the first coroner’s office in the state to have an in house pathologist.
That means autopsies can be handled in house, instead of at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
They sent 187 of the more than 1,800 death investigations to MUSC — a facility that handles most if not all of the autopsies in the Lower part of South Carolina — which can lead to backups and delays.
“Twelve years prior to me being elected it sat idle,” pointed out Beaufort County Coroner David Ott.
An exam room in the Coroner’s Office that once sat idle, will be the place where the new pathologist performs autopsies on site for the first time.
“Having that medical professional that pathologist here can translate a lot of that questionable medical information to that family that we don’t have the medical base to explain that better,” says Andrew McNece, Beaufort County Deputy Coroner.
“Every day I have to tell someone we are going to take your loved one to Charleston for an autopsy,” explains McNece. “It’s going to be four days from now. I might have some information from that day, but we won’t have final results for 10-12 weeks.”
“What was a 4-5-6 day process is now being knocked down to 24-36 hours,” says McNece. “Where we are giving families answers to questions they have.”
It’s part of the changes that Coroner David Ott wanted in place when he was elected.
“We can now walk over here and if we have questions we can definitely, while it’s being completed, have a wealth of information,” said Ott.
Ott wants to bring the Office into the present and prepare for the future.
The mobile units on site will be upgraded. The department will be nationally accredited and law enforcement will have a place to get information faster on their cases.
“They don’t have to drive 2 hours to Charleston to gather evidence,” explains McNece They can come in here, watch the autopsy they can talk to the pathologist directly, get the answers right away, collect the evidence right away to get it processed quicker as well.”
“If they say ‘hey we need an x-ray,’ I say ‘come on down,'” explains Ott. “We will have a full x-ray machine here and be able to run full x-rays that could expedite an arrest of a suspect for all law enforcement in this County.”
“Especially if it’s something that has to go in front of a judge,” details McNece. “They need that information sooner rather than later, especially if they are looking to prosecute for homicide, child neglect death, etc.”
Information that could be key to a case, or for closure for a grieving family.
“The pay of a salary for a forensic pathologist is not as equal to what families will get finding out why their husband or wife or son or daughter passed away,” said Ott.
The pathologist has been hired and will start Aug. 1. The $270,000 salary may seem like a lot, but Ott says the County paid more than $280,000 on autopsy services alone at MUSC last year. More than $40,000 of that on travel costs alone.
This lab will be able to serve not just Beaufort county, but neighboring counties like Jasper, Colleton, Hampton and Allendale. Those counties will cut their travel time in half, and pay Beaufort County instead for the autopsy services, cutting into the costs of the Department services and supplies.