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Medical examiner tells county commissioners her office is on the verge of 'collapse'

Bexar County Courthouse
Brian Kirkpatrick
Bexar County Courthouse

Dr. Kimberley Molina, the Bexar County medical examiner, warned county commissioners on Tuesday her overworked office is on the verge of collapse.

She urged commissioners to approve incentives and offer higher pay to assist her recruitment efforts.

“Quite simply put, the county can decide to invest in our office now a little bit or can invest a whole lot of a heck more to try to save an office after it collapses,” Molina told commissioners during the meeting at the courthouse.

She explained that the loss of just one forensic pathologist from her office would trigger the collapse. She said the competition to hire forensic pathologists is a statewide and nationwide battle.

Molina added that there are around 500 forensic pathologists in the nation but there needs to be twice that many. Molina said many left the field due to the big increase in workloads associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said the office is already on probation, and its accreditation through the National Association of Medical Examiners is at risk for its failure to fill some open positions.

The association has set limits on annual caseloads per individual forensic pathologists at 250. Molina said the individual caseload on her staff is around 450 cases.

Molina said the caseload at her office has increased 30% over the past three years due to the pandemic, the opioid crisis, and the booming local population. In 2022, Molina’s office also handled two major mass casualty events, including the Robb Elementary School shooting and the migrants overcome by heat in the back of a tractor trailer.

Commissioners approved an agenda item to offer the current staff pay incentives for working additional cases and pay for court testimony.

Commissioner Justin Rodriguez invited the medical examiner to speak during the meeting. County Judge Peter Sakai and the other commissioners also pledged to give Molina the resources she needs during the upcoming county budget cycle.

In other action, commissioners:

  • Legislative agenda: Heard an update on the progress on the county’s legislative agenda at the Capitol in Austin. The current legislative session ends on May 29. There has not been much progress to report, including final legislation on property tax relief. But Melissa Shannon, the county’s governmental affairs director, told commissioners the county may be able to secure $15 million for 40 forensic beds on the grounds of the state hospital to treat mentally ill inmates now housed in the crowded county jail.
  • Police honored: Approved a proclamation to recognize this week as National Police Week and May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day. Sheriff Javier Salazar thanked commissioners for their support and invited the public to attend a local memorial service at the water fountain in front of the courthouse at 9 a.m. on May 31. County Commissioner Grant Moody read aloud the names of those who died while protecting the public. The list included two sheriffs, 18 deputies and a sergeant, a constable, Kyle Coleman, the director of the county office of emergency management, who died from COVID, and K9 Chucky.
  • Elder abuse: Approved a proclamation to recognize June as “Elder Abuse Awareness Month.” Adult Protective Services informed commissioners that there were 10,404 adult abuse cases reported in Bexar County in 2022.
  • Retiree appreciated: Public Works Director Renee Green attended her last commissioners meeting. Green is retiring after 31 years of county service. She was the first woman to hold that post in a Texas county. The county honored her with the Hidalgo — its highest award.
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