County Update: Commissioner Allen says new medical examiner facility will meet important need

District 2 Commissioner Jim Allen.

Each week we provide a member of the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners the opportunity to share an update on what issues are catching their attention. This week, we have a column from District 2 Commissioner Jim Allen, whose district includes Lake Quivira, much of Shawnee and part of Lenexa.

Work is under way on the new medical examiner facility in Olathe. Photo courtesy Johnson County government.

By this time next year, the county is scheduled to be operating its first ever medical examiner facility. What does this mean for Johnson County? We will have better resources and efficiencies to perform autopsies and death investigations. Public safety will be enhanced because this state-of-the art facility will use best practices and current technology for collecting evidence, optimizing our response to homicides, suspicious deaths and overdose cases. Additionally, our public health teams will be able to access real-time information to identify trends or emerging diseases.

Johnson County had long studied the need for our own resource to do this type of work. Currently, we outsource investigations for suspicious deaths to a privately-owned lab in Wyandotte County. In 2016, the county completed a study and determined we had grown to the point of needing a coroner facility. Through further study and discussion, we determined the county would move forward with a medical examiner instead of a coroner facility, allowing a greater expanse of services to be performed. It was further determined we would provide an accredited facility by meeting scientific requirements of the National Association of Medical Examiners (N.A.M.E.). In November 2016, Johnson County voters approved a 10-year, ¼ cent public safety sales tax to build a new medical examiner facility and a new courthouse.

The facility is located on the Johnson County Government campus at 119th and Ridgeview in Olathe. The single-story 33,000 square foot facility was designed to complement the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office Criminalistics Laboratory and the County Communications Center located nearby. The contractor is McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. The design firms are PGAV Architects and SmithGroupJJR.

Under the direction of the county’s new Chief Medical Examiner/Coroner, Dr. Diane C. Peterson, MD, the medical examiner operations will fill a much-needed void in our county. Dr. Peterson will investigate deaths cooperatively with, but independently from, law enforcement and prosecutors.

The project is on budget with substantial completion scheduled for first quarter of 2020, with the facility opening to follow in the second quarter.