Thursday, May 31, 2012

(MARIN) Grand jury urges Marin supervisors to provide for a county morgue

By Nels Johnson - Marin Independent Journal

Marin County officials should provide for a county morgue when they remodel the Marin Commons building as a public safety facility, or provide space for a morgue at the Hall of Justice when the sheriff's department moves to the Commons, according to the civil grand jury.

The jury weighed in on the morgue issue in its latest report, saying that until space is found for a permanent morgue, the county should have all autopsies performed at the Napa County Morgue, which now is used by Marin for homicide and suspicious death cases.

In a process the panel called "inconvenient and inefficient," autopsies are rotated among three local funeral homes, where 115 exams took place last year at a cost of $110,000 despite minimal security and conditions that are sometimes "less than desirable."

The jury noted that grand juries in 2001 and 2009 urged establishment of a morgue, but little was done. A $1.75 million county fund to set up a forensic facility and morgue in a San Rafael building was used instead as part of the payment for the Commons building at 1600 Los Gamos Road in San Rafael.

"It has been 12 years since the first recommendation was made and Marin County still has no morgue facility," the jury noted. "The Marin County Civil Grand Jury must ask: 'Why?'"

The jury called a county plan to designate and equip one local funeral home as an autopsy site a Band-Aid approach and noted officials hope to contract with one local funeral home this summer after reviewing bids.

The jury reported that conducting all autopsies at Napa's morgue would cost $225,000, but the "benefits of the safety, security and cleanliness from using the Napa County autopsy suite far outweigh the additional cost."

Because building a new morgue would be too expensive, either the Marin Commons building or the space being vacated at Civic Center when the sheriff moves to the Commons would be "ideal locations to put a county morgue," the jury concluded.

"The civil grand jury believes the Marin County Board of Supervisors should approve retrofitting a Marin County-owned space for a morgue in either the Marin Commons building or the Civic Center. In the interim, the civil grand jury recommends using the Napa County Morgue for all autopsies."

County Administrator Matthew Hymel, attending a training session Wednesday, and Sgt. Keith Boyd, who manages coroner operations for Sheriff-Coroner Robert Doyle, were not immediately available for comment on the jury report, but Doyle said he doesn't think the proposal makes financial sense.

"In a perfect world it would be nice," he said. "It would probably cost a couple million dollars," far more than contracting with Napa for the work, the sheriff-coroner added.

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