BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) — It has long been a desire of officials to bring a medical research facility to Brazos County. For more than a decade, county leaders have discussed the possibility, but the timing wasn’t quite right.
Each year, more than 200 autopsies are outsourced to the Travis County Medical Examiners office in Austin. The Travis County MEO is currently serving Brazos and 45 other counties with their death-related investigations, as they may include an autopsy to determine the cause and manner of death.
County leaders say a toxicology lab and medical examiner are long overdue and vital to the public health and safety of residents. Commissioners say that with 45 other counties all relying on Travis County for autopsy results, it creates a backlog of cases, leaving families and law enforcement officers waiting. Having a local facility would allow law enforcement officers to stay local and not have to travel back and forth to Austin to witness the proceedings or process evidence. Most importantly, provincial leaders say a facility here would save time, resources and money.
County commissioners received a needs assessment during Tuesday’s court hearing as they move one step closer to achieving that goal.
The 16,000-square-foot facility would have the capacity to perform more than 400 autopsies per year, not only in Brazos County, but also surrounding counties. If Brazos County opened a medical examiner, surrounding counties like Burleson, Grimes, Lee, Milam, Robertson and Washington could have a better option for their autopsy services, bringing revenue to the county.
For starters, Brazos County would hire one forensic pathologist, two investigators, and three support positions, with plans to add an additional forensic pathologist, investigator, and autopsy assistant by 2030.
Early estimates say the new facility would have a $22.5 million price tag, funded in part by the American Rescue Plans Act.
“Whether it’s the [District Attorney] that needs an autopsy, because there is criminal activity and someone has been murdered or it is someone who needs to know what happened to one of their relatives, it’s about public health and so I think it’s an excellent use of [ARPA Funds]Brazos County Judge Duane Peters said.
The new facility would have a major impact on local funeral homes and the families they serve. The professionals at Hilliers Funeral Homes in Bryan and College Station are no stranger to the coroner’s office and the long trips back and forth to Austin. Amanda Gittleman is the Funeral Director and Funeral Director. She says having a local facility would ease the minds of families and improve logistics.
“Our team travels to and from Travis County’s Austin Medical Center where autopsies are currently performed several times a week,” Gittleman said. “More than anything, just the feeling that their loved one has not been taken away is a comfort to them.”
Gittleman says her top priority is meeting the needs of the family, but a closer facility would be nice.
“Logistically, it would be great for us to have something local, but we recognize that it’s not about us. It’s about the families,” Gittleman said.
A closer facility would also benefit law enforcement agencies closer to Brazos County than Travis County.
“There’s no need to send the detective or detectives to Austin to see an autopsy there that will keep them back in the community,” Peters said.
Chris Knorr, the chief forensics industry leader for the SmithGroup, says that after conducting the needs assessment for the county, the region is ideally suited for a medical research facility. He says Tuesday’s presentation was an opportunity for the public and the Court to learn more about the results of the study and have some background on why the project is important for public health.
“The county and the rest of the counties in the valley are in a good position to support at least one medical examiner, chief medical examiner, and as the need grows, when an additional forensic pathologist will be needed,” Knorr said.
Judge Peters says commissioners could vote as early as this fall to move forward with the project. County leaders hope to complete the facility by 2026.
Slides of the presentation are below.
Brazos County Commissioners Court Meeting and Medical Examiners presentation below.
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