HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) -Horry County has paid more than $100,000 for a contracted doctor to preform autopsies in 2018.
Horry County coroner Robert Edge explained Dr. Edward Proctor is a forensic certified pathologist who works at Grand Strand Hospital.
In addition to his work at the hospital, Edge said Proctor has completed autopsies for Horry, Georgetown and Dillon County for decades.
Proctor has received $105,000 for his services since January 2018.
In 2017, the county paid Proctor nearly $200,000, according to the county check registers.
Proctor receives a flat fee of $1,000 for each autopsy. So far this year, Proctor has completed 105 autopsies in Horry County.
While Edge is the county’s coroner, he is not certified to perform autopsies- that’s where Proctor comes in.
Edge said his job involves going out to crime scenes, categorizing the basic cause of death, aiding investigation and being a contact for the families.
“I think we provide some support for the families," Edge said. “We have a lot of people who aren’t born or raised or grew up here, who do not have family here.”
Edge said this personal help is something many North Carolina counties can’t always offer since most of the area operates without a coroner and just with a full-time medical examiner.
“It’s my understanding that they do not go to all these calls,” Edge said. “They just leave them on their own.”
When asked how cost efficient having both a coroner and contracted examiner is, Edge replied, “I feel like we get a good deal with him simply because he is local, nobody has to travel 100 miles one way and if we have an autopsy the police want to attend in 20 minutes they can be at the hospital. They are in the room where he is actually doing the examination where as in Charleston they cannot go in.”
Edge said other nearby counties like Marion and Florence only have a coroner and don’t have any in-county examiner at all.
Without a local certified pathologist, all bodies within Horry County would be transported to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. Currently, bodies in Horry County are only sent there if Proctor is unavailable.
“We really don’t like going down there more than what we have to,” Edge said.
This is because autopsies performed at MUSC cost $150 more than Proctor’s rate.
The register reports MUSC has conducted six autopsies this year for a total of $6,900. Last year, the county transported nine cases to Charleston, based on data from the check registries.
Edge also said transportation to and from Charleston adds to the cost.
The county contracts with a company called Grindstaff Transport. The company received $66,875 in 2018, according to county check registers. This total includes both in and out of county transportation costs.
The Coroner’s Office is also responsible for the cost of any medical tests performed on the body, including X-rays and blood tests. Edge estimates a complete autopsy averages around $1,500.
He said the county tries to save a few dollars on drug cases by conducting toxicology tests rather than full autopsies. Edge said these tests only cost around $200.
A little over 40 percent of the Coroner’s Office budget is allotted to contractual services, according to the Horry County 2017 Annual Financial Report. Last year, the office’s actual budget was $927,915.
“I know it sounds like a lot of money and it is a lot of money, but I think that is our best deal for what the situation is right now,” Edge said.
Edge said he actually thinks Horry County needs to start thinking of hiring a full-time pathologist and obtaining their own facility.
“The way we are growing the way and that they are anticipating the growth coming, I think we’re at that point where we should look at it and we could probably pick up some other county stuff, which would help offset the costs for us some too,” Edge said.
Horry County projected the office would deal with 2,500 deaths in 2018, an increase of 200 from the previous year.