The Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner's Office serves eight area counties, including Goodhue, but an invitation from Hennepin County has local commissioners considering the benefits of a merger.

"We've known for a number of years that facility is inadequate, so we're going to need to do something...," Goodhue County Administrator Scott Arneson said of the regional office.

At a Goodhue County Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday, regional medical examiner Lindsey Thomas presented the County Board with an outline of the positive changes that could come from joining with the Hennepin County medical examiner's office.

Extra space -- whether for storage, offices or autopsies -- was presented as the primary advantage. Despite the Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner's Office turning to an electronic filing system in 2010, storage issues have not been resolved.

"So far our going paperless has not really gone paperless," Thomas said. "Storage of case files is an issue."

Storage of bodies can also be a concern at times. Although the Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner's Office doesn't always make use of the six spots it has available for bodies in its cooler, there are times when each is full and more are coming in, Thomas explained.

"Their cooler holds 30 bodies," the examiner said of Hennepin County's facility.

Their autopsy room can also house up to eight tables, and the building features extra space that can be finished for offices.

In its nearly 50 years of existence, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner has built a solid reputation, partly because of its high quality staff.

John Coe, the facility's very first chief medical examiner, worked from 1963-1984 before passing the torch. Since Coe, there have been only two additional chief medical examiners.

"It really speaks to the stability of the office," Thomas said.

Looking elsewhere

Although Thomas was presenting the positives of joining with Hennepin County, some commissioners wondered whether there were other options to consider.

"What about going south or west?" Commissioner Dan Rechtzigel asked.

"Well, west is a long ways. There's not much out there," Goodhue County Attorney Stephen Betcher said, adding that Rochester could potentially be an option heading south.

"Wouldn't it make more sense to go with Mayo since the Red Wing hospital is going to Mayo?" Commissioner Ron Allen asked, referring to the conversion of Fairview Red Wing Medical Center to Mayo Clinic Health System in Red Wing effective July 1.

Betcher said the county has tried to connect with Mayo but it has not yet provided a proposal about offering morgue services.

"Nothing firm has been forthcoming," the county attorney said.

No matter where Goodhue County considers taking its morgue services, a cost increase is undoubtedly involved.

"The question of how they allocate their expenses is a pretty substantial one," Betcher said of Hennepin County.

"At the end of the day, it's partially cost but it's also based on what's best for the county attorney during prosecution matters," Arneson explained.

Arneson said more information will likely come to a Committee of the Whole meeting in the future.