The La Plata County Coroner’s Office space crunch issues might soon be coming to an end.
In its proposed 2020 budget, La Plata County proposes to fund a new autopsy room for the Coroner’s Office by remodeling the kitchen and library in the back of the old jail building.
The project would include a new covered entrance at the rear of the building for the Coroner’s Office, as well as new HVAC, lighting and plumbing.
The total cost of the project is estimated at around $390,000, with the bulk of that amount, about $328,000 in construction costs. About $10,000 would be spent for a body storage cooler and $16,000 for an autopsy table.
The 2020 budget is in the proposal stage. Over the next few weeks, La Plata County staff and commissioners, with opportunity for public comment, will review the proposed budget, with an expected adoption day of Dec. 10.
”I’m excited,” said Coroner Jann Smith. “Our numbers keep increasing every year, so I’m hoping this project goes through.”
Megan Graham, spokeswoman for the county, said the proposed project would solve the Coroner’s Office space issues.
Since the early 2000s, the Coroner’s Office has contracted with Hood Mortuary in Durango to use its facilities for autopsies.
But with the increasing population in Southwest Colorado, and therefore an increasing number of deaths, there is not enough space to handle the workload, Smith has said in multiple interviews in the past.
The annual operating costs for the Coroner’s Office from 2015 to 2019 have more than doubled, a sign county officials say shows just how much increased workload is coming the department’s way.
In 2014, for instance, the county performed 39 autopsies. But in 2017, that number jumped to 80 autopsies.
When someone dies, an autopsy is required if the death meets any of the 14 standards set by the state, which can include crimes of violence, unexplained infant mortality, workplace injury, drugs, suicides or any case the coroner deems appropriate.
The Coroner’s Office is located at the Armory Building in Bodo Industrial Park, where bodies are stored outside in coolers and have to be transported to Hood Mortuary for autopsies.
As it stands, the Coroner’s Office can conduct autopsies only two mornings a week, which can create a backlog. And, having to wait a prolonged period creates a hardship on grieving families, Smith has said.
Graham said if the proposed project is approved, the Coroner’s Office would no longer have to conduct autopsies at Hood.
“It would allow us to work more independently,” Smith said.
A work session to discuss the Coroner’s Office’s role in the 2020 budget is scheduled for Tuesday.