County takes first steps in possible transition from coroner to medical examiner

County Commissioners approved the resolution Wednesday, May 29

Kitsap County took the first steps last week toward transitioning from an elected coroner to an appointed medical examiner after county commissioners approved a resolution to create job classifications for the hiring of a forensic pathologist and an autopsy technician.

Kitsap County Coroner Jeff Wallis, elected in 2018, has advocated for hiring an appointed medical examiner and possibly eliminating the elected coroner position.

“The approval of this resolution not only moves us one step closer to the complete professionalization of this office, but it provides cost savings that will allow us to fix numerous items in our facility that are either inoperable or outdated,” Wallis said.

“Once hired, Kitsap County residents will have the benefit of a full-time doctor staffing this office to not only perform in-house services for death investigation, but to also more closely work with our community partners in identifying, addressing, and planning for our community’s needs, as well as improving the training levels of our existing staff.”

The new job classifications were created to identify the skills, expertise and competencies staff will need to perform death investigations, according to a press release. Wallis also asked that the resolution to hire the two new positions, which is accommodated by the current budget, take effect immediately but on limited terms that will allow him time to evaluate whether the changes are efficient and cost-effective in the longer term.

Kitsap County would not only perform its own autopsies but could also contract with neighboring counties to perform the services, generating revenue to help cover staffing costs, the release states. The Kitsap County Coroner’s Office 2019 budget is just under $1.4 million with anticipated revenue of $60,000.

“Coroner Wallis gave commissioners a compelling argument about why we should bring this resource in-house instead of contracting it out and we are supporting him in getting these first steps in place that will allow us to better assess the costs and benefits of restructuring the Coroner’s Office,” said Commissioner Ed Wolfe, chair of the county commissioners board.

The transition to a medical examiner from an elected coroner needs the approval of voters and county commissioners and can only be implemented when the population exceeds 250,000. The population today is estimated to be more than 268,000.