Pathologists Make House Calls

This post is in response to a question I received regarding whether or not the autopsy trailer mentioned in my previous post will remain in Salt Lake City. The simple answer is yes. However, I’ve had many informal discussions with the Deputy Chief Investigator and the Deputy Chief Medical Examiner on separate occasions regarding the use of the trailer.

One option involved parking it in Southern Utah thus providing needed coverage to that area of the state. Relocating a forensic pathologist in the southern part of the state would reduce the cost associated with transporting dead bodies to Salt Lake City and back. The current cost to tax payers for transporting a single body from St. George to Salt Lake City and back again is over $600.00. The OME’s greatest expenditure besides personnel is in transportation.

The trailer could be pulled to the location of the death, and the autopsy performed on site. In essence, the pathologist would make house calls. The downfall to this option would be lack of support staff and no local administrative office. However, the logistics of such an endeavour could easily be worked out. Although, somebody would need to crunch the numbers and compare the savings in transportation costs to the cost of a remote, per diem forensic pathology staff including autopsy trailer maintenance.

Option number two involves leaving the trailer parked at the OME in Salt Lake City and traveling to remote locations in Utah when the situation calls. A team would assemble when needed, drawn from current staff members, including a forensic pathologist, medicolegal death investigator, and an autopsy technician. The team would drive together and pull the trailer to the death scene to whatever remote area of Utah requires. Again, somebody would need to crunch the numbers and compare the cost of mortuary transport to that of sending a forensic team to the death location.

In reality, and in my humble opinion, the trailer should remain in Salt Lake City with business as usual. I can’t envision a realistic cost savings to either of the above options. They were mainly off-the-cuff remarks made completely off-the-record.

The true purpose of the trailer is to perform special autopsies that may require complete decontamination of the autopsy station. The trailer’s small, confined area would decontaminate more easily as opposed to a 15,000 square foot building, (the approximate size of the Office of the Medical Examiner.) Transporting the trailer to the death scene would also eliminate the potential contamination of any transport agency that would have otherwise delivered the body to the OME for examination.

At this very moment the trailer parked at the OME in Salt Lake City waiting to be called into action. It is my preference that we never call it into action. For now I’m happy pulling it to various disaster training drills around the state to demonstrate its abilities and to train disaster responders on its functions. Let’s hope that I never have to pull this thing into your town for its intended purpose.


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