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Updated 10:00 AM October 12, 2009

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U to house county medical examiner autopsies, duties

All of Washtenaw County's autopsies are now being performed at the U-M morgue, and the county medical examiner's office has been moved to campus.

The move is part of an ongoing partnership between the university and the county government. The county helped to fund a new state-of-art morgue that opened at the hospital in July.

Dr. Jeffrey Jentzen, director of U-M's autopsy and forensic services, says he's unaware of a similar partnership in Michigan and adds that arrangements like this are rare around the country.

Jentzen, who also serves as deputy medical examiner for the county, says handling all of the county's cases will centralize the area's death investigation process, making it easier on funeral directors, families and other professionals.

It also offers more educational opportunities to U-M medical students, providing more autopsies — up from 300 to 600 per year — in which they can participate or observe, Jentzen says.

Dr. Bader Cassin will remain the county's chief medical examiner, but his office has been moved to the North Ingalls building on North Campus. Previously some of the county medical examiner's autopsies had been performed at St. Joseph's Hospital in Ann Arbor.

The county expects some cost savings from the new arrangement, says Dick Fleece, Washtenaw County's public health director.

Washtenaw County contributed about $150,000 along with a $95,000 Department of Justice grant to the $1.35 million morgue renovation at U-M. The county just recently secured another Department of Justice grant for $82,682 that will be used to help establish a forensic photography program, obtain national accreditation for the program and host a national forensic pathology conference in Ann Arbor.

"This is the continuation of our efforts to improve death investigations in the county and the University's goal of creating an academic center of excellence for forensic pathology," Fleece says.

The morgue's renovation increased the number of autopsy tables from two to four and added a special autopsy room with air systems that can control the spread of odors or infectious diseases. The facility is brighter, more secure and offers more storage.

Jentzen says the university's willingness to invest in that new morgue played a role in establishing a beneficial partnership with Washtenaw County.

"We were willing to invest. And this is the payoff," Jentzen says.

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