Bill with bipartisan support could help clear NC autopsy backlog

North Carolina lawmakers hope a new bill will help clear the autopsy backlog across the state.

State lawmakers just introduced the bill to help with the backlogs in Raleigh and in Mecklenburg County.

For months, Channel 9′s Genevieve Curtis has investigated the impact the backlog has had, but the bill means relief could be coming to medical examiners’ offices statewide.

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House Bill 651 would create a new regional autopsy center in Union County. It would serve Union, Anson, Cabarrus, Montgomery, Richmond and Stanly counties. Currently, those counties are among 33 that have to rely on the medical examiner’s office in Raleigh, and they experience significant delays with getting results.

The issue has impacted law enforcement’s ability to solve crimes and make arrests, and it also means families are left waiting for answers.

Curtis’ investigation found in some cases, autopsy results have taken almost a year.

New state health department documents put the backlog into perspective. They say nationally, the average caseload for a medical examiner is 250 autopsies per year, with a maximum of 325. Raleigh’s is 557.

The bill, which has bipartisan support, estimates the new autopsy center would cost about $2 million. But Cabarrus County Rep. Kevin Crutchfield said it’s about reallocating state funds to work in a more efficient way, with an overall goal of making communities safer. He also thinks it’ll save money.

“We all know in these cases the quicker you can get the results from the autopsy, the better chance you have of solving the crime,” Crutchfield said.

Crutchfield is one of eight bipartisan cosponsors of the bill. He said adding a regional center in Union County would reduce Raleigh’s caseload and get information to local investigators quicker.

“This bill was really about being more efficient,” he said.

Right now, the state pays funeral homes to take bodies to Raleigh, while local investigators are also spending time and money traveling back and forth. Crutchfield said a closer autopsy center could cut those costs.

“We’ve done some work on the federal level to look at some grant money that we can get to do that,” he said. “We are looking to make it as cost effective for the taxpayer as possible, and get us a better, quicker turnaround and solution to crimes that happen.”

As far as where in Union County this regional autopsy center would go, Curtis has been told they are still exploring site options.

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