Editor's Note: Dakota County Commissioner Tom Egan represents Mendota Heights, Lilydale, Mendota and a portion of Eagan. He was elected to office in 2004 and is now serving his second four-year term. Egan will write regularly to Patch readers about county government. In this report, Egan describes what options may be out their for finding updated county morgue facilities—possibly in another county. Egan said the space at Regina Medical Center in Hastings can't handle the growing populations of the counties it serves.
To build a morgue or not to build a morgue: That is the question.
By law, counties are required to provide coronary or medical examiner services for their residents. Currently, Dakota County, through Lindsey Thomas, M.E., operates a medical examiner's office out of the Regina Medical Center in Hastings, MN.
There are a number of counties who for reasons of size and population cannot afford their own medical examiner. For these reasons, seven other counties have joined Dakota County and entered into a contract called a Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) with an entity known as the Minnesota Regional Medical Examiners Office for medical examiner services with Dr. Thomas.
This entity operates out of 4,000 square feet of windowless space in the basement of Regina Medical Center, which is extremely cramped and confining. For example, there is no room for families to view the deceased, and space for evidence preservation and storage is a concern.
In the meantime, Anoka County in late 2008 completed its own morgue in Ramsey, MN. This state-of-the-art Anoka County morgue is slightly less than 20,000 square feet in size. Because of the size of this facility, Anoka County can contract with other counties for medical examiner services and, under the name of Midwest Medical Examiner's Office, Anoka County currently provides medical examiner services for 16 counties on either a contract or referral basis.
I have joined fellow Dakota County commissioners in touring both the facility at Regina in Hastings and the Anoka County morgue. The stark contrast between these locations is striking. For that reason, the Dakota County Board and staff reviewed a detailed report Feb. 1— "The Dakota County Morgue Option Analysis."
Among the options discussed: building a morgue on the campus of the Northfield Hospital in Northfield, building a freestanding morgue in Empire Township, renovating an existing building or entering into a contract with the Midwest Medical Examiner's Office in Anoka County.
Anoka County has made it very clear that they have the capacity to serve not only Dakota County but all other counties currently served by the Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner's JPA. Regina Medical Center had previously indicated they were not capable of allowing an expansion at their hospital, but did indicate at the review that they wish to be involved in any future conversations.
The issue of expansion or relocation of a morgue is extremely complicated. It involves many issues, not the least of which includes travel time/transportation cost, security, evidence preservation, convenience and, of course, the bottom line cost to Dakota County residents.
The time horizon the Dakota County Board has set to make a decision was somewhere between two and five years. However, Olmstead County, home of Rochester and the Mayo Clinic, has expressed interest in joining Dakota County in exploring a new morgue location, and this has perhaps accelerated the time line. So the Dakota County Board will continue researching this issue, and the public can expect to hear more about morgues in the future.