Brown County launches an independent medical research firm — and partners with the Dane County Medical Examiner’s Office, which has been overseeing autopsies in northeastern Wisconsin since 2016.
The Brown County Board of Supervisors voted Wednesday to hire a full-time chief medical officer and end the agreement with Dane County, which has helped Brown County upgrade and professionalize its services in recent years.
The restructuring is taking place as Brown County prepares to open a $12 million complex, part of the Brown County Jail expansion, eliminating the need to transport bodies to Dane County.
The county’s move comes two months after 12 current and former employees told Wisconsin Watch that they experienced regular harassment, yelling and insults from two of their supervisors in the Dane County office: longtime Director of Operations Barry Irmen and Dr. . Agnieszka Rogalska, the chief medical examiner. Both have denied the allegations.
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The unrest among Dane County staff has not affected Brown County’s plans to start its own medical examiner, county officials said. That has been a “long-term goal for many years,” Jeff Flynt, deputy director of Brown County, wrote in an email.
The prison expansion is one of more than $150 million in infrastructure projects that will be paid for over six years with the 0.5% provincial sales tax approved in 2017.
“We are in discussions with Dane County about transitioning from providing ME services to delivering those services ourselves, while continuing our collaborative relationship with Dane County,” Flynt said.
Dane County has appointed a replacement for Irmen, whose office recently saw two additional senior employees resign. dr. Cristina Figueroa Soto, the office’s chief of investigations since 2021, became director of operations on June 6, according to Dane County administration director Greg Brockmeyer, while Irmen stayed on to offer training.
Dane County served Brown County under a contract that recently expired, making it easier to end the relationship, said Keith Deneys, chairman of the Brown County Board’s Public Safety Committee.
“There was a chance for us to see if we could leave on our own. Dane has been very helpful in getting our medical examiner’s office up and running to professional standards,” said Deneys. “There are no ills, or anything they did that would have driven us away.”
dr. Elizabeth A. Douglas will lead Brown County’s new medical research firm after nine years as an assistant professor of forensic pathology at Western Michigan University of Medicine. The county sent her an offer letter on Thursday, Flynt said.
Ending the collaboration between the counties will slow the flow of revenue to the Dane County Medical Examiner’s Office.
The office is budgeting about $733,000 in revenue from the Brown County partnership for 2022 — about 23% of estimated revenue that year, according to data provided by the Dane County Department of Administration.
Dane County may also suspend or delay autopsies for Door and Oconto counties, which currently pay Brown County about $100,000 a year for medical research-related services — money Brown passes on to Dane County, which provides these services.
Door and Oconto counties are likely to purchase services from Brown County’s new office, county officials said, although some partnership with Dane County could still take place. Oconto County administrator Erik Pritzl said he expects a smooth transition.
“It’s an exciting time to see these services move into a true local, regional facility, with Brown County taking the lead,” he said.
Lucas Robinson of the Wisconsin State Journal contributed to the report. The nonprofit Wisconsin Watch (www.WisconsinWatch.org) partners with WPR, PBS Wisconsin, other news media, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Any works created, published, posted or distributed by Wisconsin Watch do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.