Pima County's first chief medical examiner gets to work

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Dr. John Hu started the job last month. His experience includes working as a medical examiner in Maricopa County for more than 16 years. (Source: AZBusinessDaily.com) Dr. John Hu started the job last month. His experience includes working as a medical examiner in Maricopa County for more than 16 years. (Source: AZBusinessDaily.com)
FLORENCE, AZ (AP) -

Pinal County in southern Arizona has added a new position of chief medical examiner, meaning it no longer has to outsource and pay neighboring jurisdictions for crime work. The move is expected to save the county thousands of dollars.

Dr. John Hu started the job last month. His experience includes working as a medical examiner in Maricopa County for more than 16 years, The Casa Grande Dispatch reported.

Until Hu was chosen for the job, the Pinal County Medical Examiner's Office held an intergovernmental agreement with Pima County for services. Pima County charged $400,000 each year for up to 225 autopsies, and any autopsies over that limit cost more than $2,000.

"We think that we had been using Pima County for at least 17 years and had the formal agreement for at least the last 10 years," Assistant County Manager Leo Lew said in an email.

Pinal County has previously spent a total of about $800,000 annually. With Hu's presence, Lew said the ongoing annual operating budget is expected to be under $730,000.

Valorie Stading, the investigative supervisor of the medical examiner's office, said having a medical examiner will make operations more efficient.

"We get to better serve the folks here in Pinal County. ...There's less room for error, as everything is in house," Stading said.

In 2015, 227 autopsies and 68 external examinations were performed in Pinal County. Lew said the numbers show the county would benefit from its own forensic pathologist.

The National Association of Medical Examiners recommends between 225 and 325 autopsies each year per forensic pathologist.

Hu said he plans to work on maintaining good working relationships with other county offices and ensuring Pinal's office has all the equipment it needs.

"We have a lot to work on," Hu said. "Overall, I think this is a positive move for the county and I want to see this office successful in the future."

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