Fremont County Coroner David Owen and John Travis of Hamburg met with county  supervisors at their August 29th meeting regarding changing the procedure for autopsies for the county.
Owen and Travis maintain that the process now in place is too expensive, takes too much time, and is too stressful for families of the departed.
Fremont County autopsies are performed at the Iowa State Medical Examiner's Office in Ankeny, north of Des Moines. Transporting a body there from a funeral home in Fremont County can cost seven or eight hundred dollars. Hamburg, for example, is almost 200 miles from Ankeny.
Owen pointed out that, due to budget constraints and understaffing at the state Ankeny facility, autopsies now take two or more weeks to perform. “We've had three or four deaths in the county in the last six months, and 14 to 17 days later they're not even done yet,” said Owen.
But because a body’s veins begin to collapse at death, it's impossible to embalm a body after nine or ten days, and it must be cremated.
And cremation does not necessarily accord with the wishes of the deceased or the family of the deceased regarding a funeral or memorial service. Cremation can also conflict with deeply- held religious beliefs.
Said Owen, “You're putting families who are already under stress in more distress because they can't have the funeral that they chose. They're having to wait two or three weeks and then they have to cremate because there's no way to embalm.”
Travis added, “There are several families we've had to deal with—you take their loved one up there and they're gone for two weeks or so. They're just having a terrible time dealing with it. They didn't get to see them before they left, and they don't get to see them ever again.”
“For constituents in our county, the state is doing us a huge disservice,” Owen said, both because of the “outrageous” mileage costs to transport a body to Ankeny and the unreasonably long wait for autopsy results.
Owen and Travis requested that the board approve an alternative strategy. Mills and Harrison counties are sending autopsies to the Douglas County, Nebraska, coroner in Omaha. Fremont County also has used Douglas County in the past for autopsies.
Owen has contacted the coroner's office there. The primary forensic pathologist is more than willing to do autopsies for Fremont County in deaths where no criminal activity or foul play was involved, and in which there are no obvious litigious aspects. He has promised completion of the autopsy itself within 24 hours, not including toxicology, which takes longer to process.
Douglas County's fee is comparable to what Fremont County now pays for an autopsy in Ankeny, between $1400 and $1700.
A motion from Randy Hickey to approve Owen’s request to resume Fremont County autopsies at the Douglas County facility carried unanimously.