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News / Clark County News

Clark County Council approves interim pathology services contract

Search is underway to replace retiring medical examiner

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: August 19, 2023, 6:05am

Clark County’s shortage of forensic pathologists hasn’t improved despite increased recruiting efforts. On Tuesday, the county council unanimously approved a two-year interim staffing contract for $780,000 with Forensic Pathology Services.

Dr. Alan Melnick, director of Public Health, said the county has been searching for a replacement for the current medical examiner, who is retiring in a month.

“We’ve been recruiting for a long time for a forensic pathologist to fill the medical examiner position. This is a really difficult position to recruit for because of the national shortage of medical examiners,” Melnick said. “There’s only several hundred in the country, and it’s very competitive.”

Melnick also said he was hopeful that salary adjustments approved by the council at the beginning of the month will make the county even more competitive.

According to OpenPayrolls, the medical examiner’s office is among the highest-paid positions in Clark County government, with an annual salary of $242,000. Still, that’s below the average salary for a medical examiner in this area of around $304,000 per year.

The county is also searching for an associate medical examiner.

“This interim contract will help us keep up with the demand in terms of the work that has to be done,” Melnick said.

Rather than filling a specific position, Melnick said the contract is for pathology services, regardless of whether it’s work done by the medical examiner or associate medical examiner.

“What’s the long-term solution for this?” Councilor Michelle Belkot asked.

Melnick said the county previously wasn’t able to compete with other jurisdictions but now that the salary adjustment has been approved, he was hopeful the positions would be more attractive to candidates.

“We’re hopeful that we’ll be successful in recruiting for both positions. There’s enough work to be done to have two forensic pathologists here,” Melnick said.

A year ago, the medical examiner’s office warned that the number of unnatural deaths to be investigated was on the rise and was outpacing population growth. In the 10-year period from 2012 to 2022, the county’s population grew by 18 percent. In that same time, the number of deaths rose by 59 percent, according to Andrea Pruett, director of Community Health.

Pruett noted that the percentage of deaths requiring investigation was also on the rise. That has meant more work for the already-understaffed department.

Melnick said that should the medical examiner’s office need additional resources, for example in the case of a mass casualty event, that would also be covered under the contract.

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