County coroners reject proposed statewide medical examiner, suggest redeveloping facilites

Sep. 19—CHEYENNE — State officials testified Monday against the creation of a statewide medical examiner over concerns about increased state costs, suggesting it was a better investment to develop select county facilities to serve a statewide system.

Bill draft 57 was the first item on the agenda for the Joint Judiciary Interim Committee's Monday meeting in Casper. It would have created two statewide medical examiner positions to oversee medical autopsies for the state of Wyoming. As worded in the bill, participation in the statewide system would have been entirely voluntary, and allowed counties to choose whether they wished to opt into the state service.

Part of the drive behind the bill was concern over future autopsy services for Wyoming counties, several of which travel across the border to have their autopsy cases serviced by out-of-state forensic pathologists. The country is undergoing a shortage of forensic pathologists, a profession that is seeing a higher rate of retirees than those coming in.

As states across the country prepare to deal with their own shortcoming of forensic pathologists and medical examiners, Wyoming legislators are looking to invest in their own resources.

Fremont County Coroner Erin Ivie, vice president of the Wyoming County Coroners Association, told legislators a statewide medical examiner would cost the state millions in taxpayer money and was unnecessary.

Fremont County, with its own staff of trained forensic pathologists, already serves the entire western side of the state. Other populous counties, such as Laramie County and Albany County, are located adjacent to the border of Nebraska and Colorado, where they have taken advantage of out-of-state medical examiners.

A statewide medical examiner would be underused for the amount it would cost the state, Ivie said, which she estimated would only take less than half of the state's total autopsies.

"This is a huge undertaking that is going to cost millions of dollars to the state, something I'm not willing to go back and tell the people who elected me what we need when we have access to those facilities already," Ivie said.

The Wyoming County Commissioners Association also testified against a statewide medical examiner, suggesting the new position would create jurisdictional issues between county coroners and the state. Instead, the association suggested the creation of Forensic Science Centers, equipped with a board-certified forensic pathologists.

Executive Director Jerimiah Rieman said current commissioners were not supportive of this particular system the bill suggests, but do believe there should be some established service at the state level. Rieman suggested that the state use funds, whether it be a grant through the Wyoming Department of Health, to incentivize a few select counties to fully upgrade their facilities, as well as hire forensic pathologists and medical examiners to support a statewide system.

"It does a number of things, if we move toward a more incentive-based model. It allows counties to continue to show leadership," Rieman said. "It also helps to avoid that state versus county confusion."

Fremont County has been proactive in redevelopment of its facilities, Rieman said, and offered to be a resource for other counties. Big Horn has also invested "significantly" in its facilities, with its own forensic pathologist and medical examiner.

Commissioners prefer a partnership, Rieman said. Instead of transporting autopsy cases to out-of-state forensic pathologists, commissioners prefer to invest in Wyoming's own resources and develop those facilities in local counties.

In light of the shortage of forensic pathologists, Ivie said there were many retired pathologists who still had an interest in maintaining their accreditation. Fremont County has previously recruited these retired professionals to work part time, performing the minimal 100 autopsy cases a year, paid by the county per autopsy case.

"Most of the retiring pathologists are not looking to get out of pathology altogether," Ivie said.

After hearing testimony from both the Wyoming County Coroners Association and Wyoming County Commissioners Association, state lawmakers made no motion on the bill and set it aside.

The two-day meeting in Casper continues Tuesday.

Hannah Shields is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle's state government reporter. She can be reached at 307-633-3167 or You can follow her on X @happyfeet004.