Closure of Garrard hospital causing problems in Lincoln

December 02, 2004|EMILY BURTON

STANFORD - More people from Garrard County are dying in Lincoln, and taxpayers here could end up footing the bill.

Garrard County's emergency room patients are being brought to Fort Logan Hospital after the close of their local hospital last year, and when those patients die, Lincoln County Coroner Bill Demrow is required to handle the investigation.

"It doesn't matter what county they live in, it's the county they die in," Demrow explained.

But as his budget stretches thin, taxpayers might be called on to help.

"Routinely, we answer about 75 calls a year, but this year alone we're going to see approximately a 35 percent increase in our caseload because of Garrard County losing their hospital, thereby their emergency room deaths were occurring in Lincoln County," said Demrow.

He and his two deputies, whose salaries and expenses are paid through county taxes, face added trips to Frankfort for autopsies and additional man hours away from home for homicides, suicides or accidents. "Many times I've been called away from Thanksgiving dinner or missed Christmas morning with my family" because of a death. But, said Demrow, "When the phone rings, you can't say no."


Following the death, the next of kin must also be found and notified in person. There is a marked difference in the cost of driving to a Stanford residence versus trekking to Garrard County said Demrow. "You can see the added expense, the time, the gas, the whole thing."

Because the coroner has no central office in Lincoln County, Demrow is using his own phone, vehicle and gas to investigate and notify family. He is given $3,600 annually to cover his expenses and operates on less than an additional $19,000 of taxpayer's money.

From this comes the $275 price tag for transporting a body for autopsy. While the state pays for the actual physical exam, the county pays Demrow $275 to transport the body in his personal vehicle on a stretcher.

But Garrard County isn't chipping in, and Demrow's budget isn't going up anytime soon.

"If the trend continues, I think that it would only be fair to look at the funding issues," Demrow said. There is currently no cost-sharing program between the two counties.

Only so much Garrard coroner can do

Legally, there is only so much Garrard County Coroner Daryl Hodge can do, Hodge said, though he agreed that Lincoln County is seeing an increase in deaths per year due to Garrard County residents.

"It's a lot. There's been a boatload. I can think of four (who were transported to Fort Logan and died there) right off the top of my head," said Hodge.

But in an official sense, his office cannot interfere with other county's cases. "Legally, if that person dies in Lincoln County it's his (Demrow's) case." "I don't know what I can legally do to offset" the added expenses, said Hodge. "Unfortunately, it's his baby."

Hodge added that he had already assisted the Lincoln County Coroner with Garrard County deceased on at least three occasions, and volunteered to notify next of kin in his county if that would help.

But the current system isn't exactly padding his budget, Hodge pointed out. As of the first of December, the Garrard County Coroner's office has met last year's total number of deaths and exceeded it by one.

Lincoln County Judge-executive Buckwheat Gilbert said his county didn't mind helping its neighbors, though his office has been getting calls from Garrard County next of kin complaining of the situation. "I just tell them our coroner has to do his job," Gilbert said. He was aware of the increase in death investigations but didn't think a cost-sharing plan between the two counties was needed. Gilbert said the coroner could request a higher budget next year and, in the interim, was doing a great job with the "complicated situation."

An expense budget request would have to wait, said Demrow. He could only expect the county to provide so much additional funding a year, and with his assistants' salaries hovering at $275 a month for the last decade, "right now the importance would be in increasing the deputy coroner pay."

The growing cost of the dearly departed will have to wait.

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