LANE COUNTY, Ore. (KMTR) - It's a dire situation for multiple agencies throughout Lane County, the medical examiner's office and morgue included.
Two deputy medical examiners, a number of part-time employees and the rental of the morgue area are all set to be eliminated from the department May 19.
"When the money goes away, the operation goes away," said District Attorney Alex Gardner. "It's disheartening and it's frightening."
Multiple agencies in Lane County are facing budget cuts and job layoffs including LCAS and the Lane County Sheriff's Office. The district attorney's office will lay off 19 of it's employees by mid-May, cutting $385,000 from the two million dollar shortfall throughout the department.
The DA's office oversees the medical examiner and the morgue. While Gardner said there will still be a state physician, there will be no morgue for him or her in which to work nor will there be anyone to respond to the scene.
Currently, the medical examiners cover a 24-hour, seven-day week operation identifying the cause of death for nearly 1,100 people a year.
The cuts mean there will be no one to sign off the cause of death and possibly no answers for families looking for closure. Gardner said he receives letters and phone calls from people all the time making sure someone determined whether the death was an accident or homicide. Without a medical examiner, though, the response time will increase immensely.
"When you don't have a medical examiner to send, you have a patrol officer sitting there going 'well, I don't have the tools I need to distinguish between possibilities'," said Gardner.
Medical examiners are often the people who determine whether illnesses - like bird flu or swine flu - are present in our area, with the potential for a public health concern.
Eugene and Springfield Police Departments said they are holding a number of meetings over the next couple of weeks to try and consider options including what to do without a medical examiner on scene.
One of the alternatives is certifying some police officers and EMTs to be medical examiners; however, they would still have their own workload to deal with.
"All of us - the county and the city - we're all tightening our belts and trying to become very efficient," explained Patrol Captain Pete Deshpande, Eugene Police. "In many ways that is good. In that process there is going to be some challenges and difficulties so I would ask the public to be patient with us during that time."
Some say it's the public's fault for not approving higher property taxes in the past.
As for the DA's office, who is letting people go left and right, there are some volunteer forensic nurses working for the county but not full-time.
Come May 19th, after the cuts, the overall plan for the DA's office is to simply hope for more money on the horizon. More money, though, is unlikely as timber payments for now remain expired and the status of federal assistance is uncertain.