Marion County Coroner’s Office fights for more money as it sees unprecedented increase in death investigations

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INDIANAPOLIS — The Marion County Coroner’s Office is fighting for more money as it experiences an unprecedented increase in death investigations this year. It comes as the nation battles a pandemic and Indianapolis sees a record number of homicides.

For 2020, Marion County is experiencing a nearly 30% increase in case volume. There has not been an increase of that quantity in over 10 years. As it places a burden on personnel and resources, the office is experiencing a backlog in case closure. That is impacting families and criminal investigations.

Since 2016, the MCCO has not had a single month in the first half of the calendar year with over 200 accepted cases for investigation. In 2020, they have had four months (January, April, May and June)
with over 200 cases each month.

The increase in the number of investigations means costs are also going up for the coroner’s office. On top of that, MCCO says they only have half of the medical and investigative staff suggested by accreditation standards to handle the caseload increase.

During a budget presentation to the Public Safety and Criminal Justice committee on Wednesday, MCCO officials did not hold anything back.

“This will have a devastating and lasting impact on public safety,” said Alfie McGinty, the dhief deputy coroner.

McGinty said the office went from performing about 600 autopsies a year to performing over 1,200 autopsies per year. It is a grim reality their department is facing. The number of death investigations has increased every year since 2017.

“We started in one hour of the shift with three homicides and one infant death investigation with two deputies on duty,” said McGinty.

MCCO said the surge of death investigations may not solely be related to COVID-19. The rise in death investigations is occurring in all manners of death. COVID-19 related deaths account for 5 percent of the total case increase this year. Those investigations do add to the case load and the cost.

More cases means the office is spending more money. According to their reports, expenses have been higher than their allocations from the budget, except in 2017.

During the committee meeting, City Controller Ken Clark said the coroner’s office received the largest increase among the county agencies in the proposed 2021 budget.

“I believe their budget increase from 2019 to 2020 was about 19% increase. So we are attempting to make some progress. There is a lot of work to do,” said Clark.

The coroner’s office believes they are still not getting enough money to operate where they should be. McGinty said the office asked for an additional $1.2 million in the 2021 budget, and they were approved for $400,000.

MCCO was hoping to get enough money for six more full-time staff members and six part time employees. McGinty said the increased funding will only pay for three more full time staff members at the lowest hourly rate.

Retention is something the office is struggling with right now. MCCO said staff are leaving as a result of low compensation. 25 full-time staff members are funded, but McGinty said the office should actually have 35 to 40 employees conducting this number of death investigations.

“Our budget is not consistent with the number of FTE count that we should have,” she said.

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