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Bills reintroduced to fund new Wake Forest Baptist autopsy center

Bills reintroduced to fund new Wake Forest Baptist autopsy center

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Forsyth County's state House delegation reintroduced Tuesday an attempt to fund a new $23.9 million regional autopsy center at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

On Wednesday, companion Senate Bill 144 was submitted by Forsyth Republican senator Joyce Krawiec and Democrat Paul Lowe.

The compromise in the fiscal state budget approved by the Republican-controlled legislature in June 2019 had $15.02 million for the center.

However, the funding was not provided because of Gov. Roy Cooper's veto of the 2019-20 budget, primarily because the budget lacked funds for Medicaid expansion and did not include bigger pay raises for teachers to satisfy Cooper.

House Bill 127, introduced Tuesday, contains similar language to that in the 2019-20 state budget.

A standalone House bill for the autopsy center has not advanced since efforts began in 2014.

House Bill 491 was not taken up in committee during the 2019-20 session.

The 21,000-square-foot autopsy center would be built on vacant land on the Clarkson campus, near the Wake Forest primate center in southern Forsyth County.

HB127 would provide $3.63 million in fiscal 2021-22 and just under $18 million in fiscal 2022-23.

Wake Forest Baptist would contribute $2.3 million toward the land, planning and start-up costs.

The current autopsy center at Wake Forest Baptist serves 33 counties, as well as providing training and supervision for pathology residents on their rotations.

"A new regional autopsy center has been needed for quite some time and will enable us to better serve families throughout western North Carolina," said Dr. Kevin High, Wake Forest Baptist's president.

The current center is one of four statewide under the auspices of the N.C. office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

The bill says the current center’s space “is inadequate to facilitate current and future estimated volume, presents significant operational challenges, and is not complaint with National Association of Medical Examiners autopsy standards.”

The proposal first surfaced statewide in December 2014 in recommendations designed to help reform the medical examiner’s office. At that time, the proposal recommended $12.4 million for a new autopsy center.

A new center would be capable of providing up to 1,760 autopsies annually. It would contain eight autopsy work stations, refrigerated storage for 50 bodies and support facilities and equipment.

Wake Forest Baptist said the center performed 1,448 autopsies in 2020, some of the increase related to the opioid addiction crisis.

"That number is expected to continue to rise as the population grows across our coverage area," High said.

"We are receiving numerous requests from public and private healthcare institutions throughout the region to perform autopsies, which will only add to the current volume." 

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