County coroner: Expect budget troubles
Lycoming County Coroner Charles E. Kiessling Jr. has cautioned the county commissioners to “be prepared” for his office to exceed its budget — again, Commissioner Tony Mussare said on Tuesday.
The high number of autopsies and toxicology reports required throughout 2017, especially due to the ongoing opioid epidemic, led to the department overexerting its budget, Kiessling said. A record 38 people died of drug overdoses in the county, he said.
With the UPMC Susquehanna Williamsport Regional Medical Center striving toward being designated a regional trauma center, Kiessling is concerned that costs will continue to rise.
“It will increase the number of cases brought into the hospital and, unfortunately, not everyone that goes to a trauma center is guaranteed to survive,” Kiessling said. “Then those cases all have to be investigated by the county coroner’s office, even though they may not be county residents.”
By law, medical helicoptors must deliver incoming patients to the nearest trauma center, so flights that previously went to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville may instead go to Williamsport, Kiessling added.
On top of the costs of toxicology reports and autopsies, the coroner’s office also must collect, manage and share a significant amount of data. Maintaining the software required to do this, as well as the manpower, adds more to the expense, Kiessling said.
“We’re trying to provide data, but all that stuff has significant costs,” he said. “We’re not seeing any fewer numbers of drug-related deaths. It’s going to be a struggle that’s not going away anytime soon.”
Mussare said the commissioners are doing their due diligence by looking into other counties with a designated trauma center to see how the centers have affected county coroners.
“If we have a need for this trauma center, we’d better be prepared,” he said. “The coroner is on top of everything going on in his department. We can’t take his recommendation lightly.”
The commissioners will consider the following actions on Thursday:
• Approve a professional service agreement not to exceed $300 per case with SteelFusion Clinical Toxicology Laboratory.
• Approve invoices in the amount of $77,862 and $19,727 from Superion for 2018 eFinance maintenance.
• Approve agreement with Columbia County for inmate housing on an as-needed basis at a rate of $70 per inmate per day.
Along with Mussare, Commissioners Rick Mirabito and Jack McKernan were present. The next meeting will be at 10 a.m. Thursday in Executive Plaza.