ROBERTSDALE — Baldwin County Coroner Dr. Brian Pierce said his office is in desperate need of a new building. He made his case Monday to the Baldwin County Commission, highlighting the recent issues his office has seen with drug overdoses.
In Pierce's annual report with statistics from Oct. 1, 2021, to Sept. 30, 2022, the coroner’s office investigated 635 deaths out of 2,400. That caseload was up from 562 in 2020 and 353 in 2010. Pierce said the county was growing at an annual rate of 2.5%, which is expected to continue through 2030.
Foley Public Safety director David Wilson, who presented a report from the Coroner Advisory Committee, said, despite its tiny facility, the Baldwin County Coroner’s Office was one to be proud of.
“It is critically important that the coroner’s office be professional, compassionate and efficient,” said Wilson. “They are. As a public safety official, I want to share with you that our first responders have a big job to do in this county while serving, protecting and saving lives, and a very, very big part of that mission is the coroner’s office. They are involved in so much of what we do, whether it’s a homicide, a natural death or a traffic fatality.”
Pierce asked for assistance raising money for a new facility while stressing the need for more space. He said the coroner’s office has occasionally been forced to call in a portable morgue unit for added storage. He also said one employee was working out of a storage closet in the back of the facility.
Commissioner Billie Jo Underwood said she understood the coroner's need for more space, especially with the rapid growth in the county, but she feels the county doesn’t have funding to fix it. The Alabama Constitution does not require the county to fund the coroner’s office. After continued discussions Tuesday morning, Underwood said there needed to be a business plan so that even if a building were built, there could still be funds to sustain operations inside the building.
“That’s going to have to be the key,” Underwood stated. “So, we’re going to have to work with the state and other resources, municipalities, other counties, and figure it out.”
Underwood proposed more meetings concerning the future of the coroner’s office.
Pierce had a feasibility study done last year based on the population and needs of the coroner’s office. He said the coroner’s office is trying to work with the sheriff’s office on cases involving crime scene investigations so they can combine space and improve death investigations.
In case of mass fatalities, Pierce said his office is planning ahead with the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) to be able to deploy a pop-up morgue capable of storing up to 12 bodies.
“This would be deployable to the site of an incident, should we have one,” Pierce explained. “It also prepares us better for body surge like we saw during the COVID pandemic. It also gives us the ability to store up to 30 bodies.”
Also in place are mutual aid agreements with local funeral homes and mass fatality training.
Pierce is also concerned about the effects of the fentanyl crisis in Baldwin County. Drug overdoses were the primary cause of unnatural deaths in the county during the last fiscal year. In all, 65 drug deaths were determined, and five of the county’s suicides were also due to drugs.
Most drug overdose deaths happen during the summer months and during December.
"The pandemic is over," Pierce said. "But the fentanyl crisis continues. Fentanyl is what is killing people."
Of the 65 overdoses, Pierce said fentanyl was indicated in 44 cases.
"Fentanyl is, of course, driving most of these overdoses," he added.
Pierce pointed out that drug overdoses affect all age groups and demographics.
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