County considers moving Medical Examiner’s office

New office would be near Milwaukee Regional Medical Center

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Milwaukee County is considering merging its Medical Examiner and Emergency Management offices into a single building near the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center in Wauwatosa.

Medical Examiner's office
Milwaukee County is considering moving the Medical Examiner’s office into a county-owned building near the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center in Wauwatosa.

The idea of merging the two offices is mentioned in an updated draft of a consolidated facilities plan brought before a Transportation, Public Works and Transit committee meeting on Jan 20. A spokesperson for County Executive Chris Abele said the idea is being discussed, but no firm plans are in place.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Chief Medical Examiner Brian Peterson. “They’ve been vague with details, but … I haven’t seen a red light yet.”

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The Medical Examiner’s office at 933 W. Highland Ave. is located between the county jail and the former Pabst Brewery complex. It has had problems for years.

The building is 85 years old and once belonged to the old St. Anthony’s Hospital, which shut down in 1988. It was renovated to accommodate the Medical Examiner’s office, but Peterson said the facilities are inadequate.

“Sometimes the heating works, sometimes it doesn’t; sometimes it floods and sometimes it doesn’t,” Peterson said. “The aging is part of it and part of it is there is infrastructure here we can’t improve.”

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The building doesn’t have enough outlets for electrical equipment, rats are a problem and examination rooms are too small for multiple autopsies to be performed at once. Peterson said the building’s limitations have slowed investigations and made it difficult to attract and retain employees.

“We’ve lost potential trainees and even staff based on our facilities,” Peterson said. “We have an excellent program here. Certainly, we have excellent support from the community, but we’re working in a dump. They’re comparing us pretty unfavorably to other facilities around the country.”

Merging the Medical Examiner’s office with Emergency Services into an existing, county-owned building would fall in line with a series of recommendations made to the county in a 2013 report prepared by real estate firm CBRE.

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County administrators commissioned the report to examine management options for county-owned properties.

CBRE recommended the county consolidate services into fewer buildings to cut operations expenses and sell its least valuable and most sparsely-occupied properties. The firm also recommended the county use the money it makes from those sales to improve its remaining buildings.

Abele spokesperson Melissa Baldauff would not say how seriously the county is considering the idea, but wrote in an email that the county executive is seeking ways to “leverage the county’s assets into meaningful economic development.”

“Anytime county assets are not being used at their highest and best use, and there is an opportunity to realize savings and make smarter investments, that’s an option the county executive will explore,” Baldauff wrote.

Peterson said he would like county and state leaders to consider collaborating on a state crime lab

“The idea of designing a new facility that would be home for us for the crime lab, for county emergency services, would be perfect,” Peterson said. “You’d essentially have a forensic science center that no one else in the country has … my impression is that the county well understands our need for our new facility and at the same time the state understands the need for a new crime lab. The question is: can we put this all together?”

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