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Porter County Council questions coroner over rising autopsy costs

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Porter County is seeing a big increase in what it's spending on autopsies. Coroner Cyndi Dykes says the number of autopsies increased by 10 percent in the first six months of the year, followed by 23 autopsies in July and August.

"The autopsies are increasing. I do not have any control over who dies, when they die, where they die or why they die," Dykes told the county council Tuesday.

Dykes said a big issue is people dying at home without a regular doctor to sign the death certificate.

She asked the council for another $100,000 to cover pathologist and hospital morgue fees through the end of the year. The coroner has negotiated a flat monthly fee for the pathologist, but now it's going up, due to the increase in autopsies.

Council member Andy Bozak questioned whether that arrangement is actually saving the county money and encouraged Dykes to explore other options. "I mean, we've seen your budget go from $324,000 in 2017 to a projected budget of $510,000 this year. It's not a savings. I mean, we're spending more money than ever, and you said you can't bid it out. Why?" Bozak asked.

Dykes said she's limited to using Northwest Health - Porter hospital's facilities and doctor, since her office doesn't have its own morgue space. But others noted that previous coroners have used facilities outside Porter County, even though they had fewer staff members to transport bodies.

In the end, Dykes agreed to reduce her request slightly, and council members finalized an additional appropriation of $67,500 for pathologist fees and $10,000 for morgue fees through the end of the year.