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Published on May 16, 2024
Bexar County Misses $1,000 Property Deal, Now Shells Out Millions Amid Medical Examiner's Office CrisisSource: Google Street View

In a striking example of a missed opportunity, Bexar County failed to snatch up a property valued in the millions for the price of an iPhone - a mere $1,000. Instead, they are now forking out over ten million dollars for a new facility for its Medical Examiner's Office and crime lab. According to a FOX San Antonio report, the 1991 lease agreement included an option for the county to purchase the building outright as of 2016, but they let the deal lapse and found themselves without a purchase option in a new lease signed just this February.

The bizarre decision has drawn criticism from groups like the Bexar County Taxpayers Association, with Anne Englert saying, "There's absolutely no reason for this to have happened, more people should be outraged over this," according to the same FOX San Antonio investigation. UT Health Science Center, the property’s owner, had granted the morgue and crime lab rent-free use since the original lease, the county having made only a $75,000 initial payment decades ago. Former County Judge Nelson Wolff, when pressed about the move, hazarded that the land's location within the UT Health campus and controlled access reduced its resale value.

Simultaneously, the existing workforce at the Medical Examiner's Office is crumbling under the pressure of understaffing. As per San Antonio Report, Bexar County Commissioners have greenlit stipends to coax medical examiners into taking the stand in court - a response to the heavy churn rate and increased caseload. Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Kimberley Molina underscored the dire situation, declaring that the office is "essentially one forensic pathologist away from collapse."

The testimonial incentive - a $1,000 stab at mitigation - comes on the heels of a troublesomely high autopsy count, itself warranting a $1,000 bonus after 300 autopsies in a calendar year. The budget for this band-aid solution could hit up to $120,000 annually, a small patch on the greater problem of keeping a medical examiner's office afloat. With competitive salaries elsewhere, retaining talent is now akin to plugging holes in a sinking ship, with Molina warning, "If any one of these offices chooses to increase salaries or increase benefits and recruits one forensic pathologist away from our office, our office will collapse."

Judge Peter Sakai has promised to involve the office's voice in the months ahead, while the office envisions unique incentives such as medical school loan payoffs to lure and retain talent. Their hope is to restore the staffing levels to a state robust enough to revoke the need for these costly stipends and keep the office out of the crosshairs of an accreditation-related probation status, as reported by the San Antonio Report. Nonetheless, the consequences of past contractual oversight coupled with ongoing retention challenges paint a bleak portrait of an essential public service grappling with both fiscal and human resource inadequacies.