By Jon King /

An infusion of cash may be needed to help bolster the Livingston County General Fund due to a major increase in the number of investigations being conducted by the Medical Examiner’s office.

During a presentation Monday to the General Government and Health and Human Services Committee, EMS Director David Feldpausch, who also serves as the County Coordinator of Medical Examiner (ME) Services, informed the board that there had been a 226% increase in the number of ME exams from January through July as compared to the same period in 2019. ME services are handled through a contract with the University of Michigan’s Dr. Allecia Wilson, who is the Chief Medical Examiner for Washtenaw and Livingston County.

Feldpausch laid out statistics that indicated there had been 303 such investigations so far in 2020, but just 134 in the first seven months of 2019. However, he said because the percentage of those investigations that involved an autopsy was at or below the previous two years, what they were seeing was simply an increase in their total caseload. “Everything I found just suggests that the quantity has gone up and nothing else that I could put my finger on. So the million dollars question that’s going to be on everyone’s mind is, ‘how much of this is related to COVID?’ According to the stats that Dr. Wilson gave me, only 9.24% of these natural deaths were directly related to COVID. So COVID had very little impact on this total increase.”

The current ME contract covers up to 150 autopsies per year. However, there have already been 103 autopsies, and the county must pay $1,500 for each one beyond 150. Feldpausch says that if the current death rate remains the same as it did in the second quarter, the budget could be short as much as $84,000, although that’s a worst-case scenario. A budget amendment to transfer $75,000 out of the county’s contingency fund is expected to come to the county’s Finance Committee at their August 12th meeting.

Feldpausch tells WHMI that Dr. Wilson has assured him what they are experiencing is similar, and in some cases even better, to what is being seen in other jurisdictions. Feldpausch said he would “really like to see data on deaths from preventable or treatable causes as subjective as they might be” as his suspicion is that a significant portion of these cases were preventable, “but people were so afraid of the healthcare system that they did not seek treatment during the peak of the pandemic.”