AUGUSTA, GA (WFXG) - The GBI Lab in Atlanta is asking state legislature to raise the salaries of medical examiners in its Atlanta morgues. But coroners in the Augusta area say the salary increases won't help speed up the autopsy process locally, and they're asking the GBI to help make changes that will impact the CSRA.
Since October 2013, if coroners in Augusta have needed an autopsy, they have to spend $245 to send the body to the GBI Lab in Atlanta, something Richmond County Coroner Mark Bowen said only drags out the process in waiting for official results.
"That's where our down time comes in," he said. "The down time with the toxicology and histology, if we get that done, it's usually 18-26 weeks."
In 2014, Bowen sent 176 bodies to Atlanta, and he said he's still waiting on results for just fewer than 20 case results.
Bowen thinks that instead of raising salaries for medical examiners in Atlanta, GBI officials need to look into re-opening the GBI Lab right here in Augusta.
"The perfect scenario would be to have the Augusta GBI office open," Bowen said. "We can go to the lab with body, get an autopsy, and get it back to the family so they can go on with the burial or cremation, or whatever they decide to do and start their grieving and closure process."
The Augusta lab closed in 2013 after the medical examiner retired, and the facility is ready to go, all it needs is an operator.
"It's got the morgue and the autopsy suite. It's got a holding area, and it's got offices for the medical examiner," said Bowen. "It's a nice, up to date facility, but if it's closed, it's not doing us no good. You've got the building sitting out there, nothing happening in the building, why not use it?"
Bowen says there are plans in the works to bring autopsies back to Augusta to help make sure they're able to bring closure to families dealing with a tragic loss.
Bowen says he's spoken with local commissioners and they are in the process of working with officials in Atlanta on efforts to re-open the GBI Lab in Augusta.