An agreement was reached this week between Clark and Nye counties for autopsy services.
The Nye County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to approve a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Clark County Office of the Coroner/Medical Examiner (CCOCME) on Tuesday.
The action comes more than five months after commissioners declined to renew a contract bid by Dr. Rexene Worrell, who served as Nye County’s chief medical examiner for the past 10 years.
Under the terms of the agreement, after the delivery of an individual who dies in Nye County, the CCOCME will perform a medicolegal death investigation, which may or may not include post-scene forensic investigative work consisting of autopsy, toxicology report, DNA, and determination of cause and manner of death.
Additionally, the CCOCME will charge Nye County $2,500 per autopsy, and external examination services at $400 per exam, which will include all consultations, standard toxicology and histology fees, pursuant to Clark County Code 2.12.330.
Nye County Assistant Sheriff Rick Marshall said commissioners decided to go in a different direction as a possible cost savings measure.
“The reason for that came after a review of the costs of autopsy services. The commissioners felt that they could get a better financial deal through Clark County. We haven’t got a baseline on how much less we are going to pay. We won’t know until after a year’s cycle goes through,” he said.
Marshall put forth a few of the advantages gained by the county as a result of the change.
“The most obvious benefit is that we have the full service of the Clark County Coroner’s Office and we have all of their expertise and equipment behind us. Of course, they have a large staff and more resources,” he explained.
At present, Nye County Sheriff Tony DeMeo serves as the county’s official coroner, which is quite different from the duties of a medical examiner.
Marshall said due to Nye’s small population, state law does not require the county to have its own full-time medical examiner.
In counties of less than 100,000 people, the sheriff is the ex-officio coroner.
When a person dies in a suspicious death or there is a criminal component, an autopsy may be conducted into the cause of death.
“We are not a large enough county. By statute, Sheriff DeMeo is the de facto coroner but we are not a large enough county to warrant having a medical examiner nor do we have the financial resources to do that. He didn’t perform autopsies as a coroner because that’s the medical examiner’s duty,” he said.
There are five forensic pathologists on staff in Clark County, who handle on average 10-to-12 cases per day, 3,000 to 4,000 per year.
All said, the county oversees roughly 15,000 deaths per year.
Clark County Coroner Michael Murphy told the board in June that it would be a seamless process taking over autopsies from Worrell.
“We’ve provided services to the Nye County sheriff for a number of years, whenever their service provider, which was the medical examiner, was not available, whether by vacation or any other reason. We’re good neighbors and have worked closely with Nye County over the past 10 years,” he said.
Worrell, meanwhile, made her feelings known to commissioners about how they handled the whole affair after 10 years of service.
“If they don’t want me and they can save money, by all means, that’s wonderful if they can do that because counties are losing money. But don’t discredit me in the interim.”