Collaboration with doctors helps Peoria County Coroner conduct fewer autopsies despite rising death numbers

Local News

PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — With a record number of homicides in Peoria this year, a unique partnership is helping the coroner save on costs and the number of autopsies conducted.

Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood said an autopsy can take four to six weeks, and costs up to $2,000. By working with doctors, he has been able to figure out a way to deal with the rising death numbers, but decrease the number of autopsies needed.

“You can create a logical explanation about how the person passed away without doing an autopsy,” said Harwood.

Harwood said since 2018, his team has been collaborating with doctors to figure out natural causes of death by making a clinical profile for each case.

“We can look at lab values, we can look at x-ray reports, all of that kind of stuff we have access to,” he said. “The number of death reports have gone up, yet our number of autopsies completed has gone down.”

The Peoria County Coroner’s Office completed 294 autopsies in 2016, compared to 63 autopsies this year.

But Harwood said, “homicides are a whole different ballgame,” because he does the “rule out method” to determine the cause of death, not a clinical profile.

“I walk into every case in my mind saying, ‘this is natural causes,’ and then I try to prove myself wrong,” he said.

Harwood said he usually budgets using the previous year’s number of homicides, and he is concerned about getting through the rest of a record year of homicides in Peoria.

“It does make me nervous. We can look back, and we can plan, but there are certain things that are unpredictable, like 34 homicides in one year,” he said.

Harwood said for next year’s budget planning, he is looking at the past five years’ average, not from the previous year. He said he remains hopeful and is not planning for a repeat of 2021.

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