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Forensic Center proposes new fee structure

William L. Jenkins Forensic Center

JOHNSON CITY (April 9, 2014) – Officials from East Tennessee State University’s James H. Quillen College of Medicine are asking Northeast Tennessee county leaders to adopt a new fee structure to cover services provided by the William L. Jenkins Forensic Center.

Revenue from the new fee structure is needed to increase staffing at the forensic center – which serves eight Northea­st Tennessee counties – to provide additional services that are now required by state regulations and accreditation standards, says Dr. Robert Means, ETSU dean of Medicine.

“In recent years, a regulation has been passed that requires death scene investigations be coordinated with forensic centers,” Means said.  “And this means that the centers must have certified death investigators – and in some cases forensic pathologists – who are available 24/7 to provide consultation to medical examiners and authorities at the scene. This would be done before an autopsy can be ordered and the examiner can leave the scene.

“Given the small staff we have at our forensic center, we cannot provide that level of coverage at this time,” he added.

The Jenkins Forensic Center budget presently allows for two pathologists plus a part-time contribution from a third pathologist, in addition to one administrative employee, two clerical employees, one technician and one certified death investigator.  During the 2013 year, the center performed 398 autopsies.

Means said that additional staffing, such as more certified death investigators, is also necessary to meet new National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) accreditation requirements, which outline adequate and timely steps and procedures that must be followed with every death investigation.

The accreditation requirements also assume that the forensic center has appropriate authority in overseeing the death investigation.

A Tennessee law requires that all autopsies be performed at a facility accredited by NAME.  The Jenkins Forensic Center is currently accredited by NAME but will undergo a site review in the coming months.

“We believe the additional revenue would allow us to have adequate staffing at the forensic center to meet these state regulations and accreditation requirements,” Means said.

The fee structure being proposed is based on a per capita charge being endorsed by the U.S. Department of Justice in conjunction with numerous entities involved in forensics.  Means says this model is a national standard.  Presently, each of the eight Northeast Tennessee counties pays ETSU an annual rate for the forensic services that is reflective of the number of autopsies the county ordered in the past five years.

“If you look at our current fee structure, the costs for services of the William L. Jenkins Forensic Center to the counties are drastically lower than anywhere else in the state, and even if we adopt this per capita model, our costs to counties will be comparable but still lower than other centers in Tennessee,” Means said. “All the other centers in Tennessee are already funded to provide continuous coverage to death scene investigations.”

Means says ETSU has already met with county mayors and other officials to discuss the new proposed funding structure.

The eight counties served by the forensic center are Carter, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington.

The counties are assisting ETSU in paying the debt on the Jenkins forensic facility located on the Quillen VA Medical Center campus.  The current balance on the building is just over $881,000.