The University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) has been awarded a $3.1 million contract to operate the West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center (WTRFC) and the Shelby County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Under the contract, which was approved in June by the Shelby County Commission and went into effect July 1, UTHSC will provide a range of services. They include:
- staffing and management of the center, including forensic pathologists, forensic technicians, support staff, and a physician eligible for appointment as the Shelby County medical examiner,
- consultation services 24/7 for all reported cases, when possible,
- establishment and operation of a forensic pathology fellowship program that is accredited by the ACGME (Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education), with the primary location for the program at the WTRFC,
- continued accreditation of the Office of the Medical Examiner by the National Association of Medical Examiners.
The one-year contract with UTHSC was awarded through an RFP (request for proposal) process that required participants to submit proposals by Jan. 21. The contract contains an option to renew for three additional one-year periods from July through June. UTHSC ran regional forensic services for years before ceasing in 2006.
The center will oversee medico-legal death investigation services for all 20 counties west of the Tennessee River that send autopsies to the facility. It will apply uniform standards of investigation for all deaths regardless of the county of origin, and maintain investigative integrity beginning with the scene.
“We believe that we are uniquely positioned to deliver high-quality, cost-effective management of the center and to add considerable value to the educational, public service and research elements that the center has the potential to deliver,” Kennard Brown, JD, MPA, PhD, FACHE, executive vice chancellor and chief operations officer at UTHSC, said in the petition to operate the center.
“The integration of the missions of the WTRFC and UTHSC transforms the investigation of suspicious deaths into a discipline of education, research, clinical care, and public service for the benefit of the health and welfare of the citizens of Shelby County and West Tennessee,” he said. Plans are to keep as many of the existing employees as possible.
Dr. Brown also said UTHSC plans to develop a Center of Excellence in Forensic Science that will use current resources in forensics, including forensic dentistry and forensic nursing. The contract also positions the WTRFC to better respond in instances of natural disasters and acts of terrorism, he said.
During the past three years, investigations by the county Medical Examiner’s Office totaled 2,687 in 2011; 3,709 in 2012; and 4,152 in 2013. The West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center is located at 637 Poplar in a $10 million facility that opened in June 2012.