Bannock County, Idaho State University to build forensic pathology center
POCATELLO — Idaho State University and Bannock County officials have entered into an agreement to fund and build the East Idaho Forensic Pathology Center, according to a Monday news release from ISU.
The center will be a state-of-the-art facility where autopsies will be performed, serving 17 counties in East Idaho and will be located somewhere on ISU’s Pocatello campus, according to the news release.
Currently, all autopsies in Idaho are conducted in Boise through the Ada County Coroner’s Office, and the new center will help to expedite cases throughout East Idaho, according to Bannock County Coroner Torey Danner.
“Reducing the travel time for each autopsy will improve the efficiency of my office as well as the rest of the justice system,” Danner said. “This center will speed up the turnaround time for autopsy results, too, which means a faster resolution of cases.”
Officials with ISU and Bannock County are exploring existing structures and undeveloped land to locate the facility, taking into account both cost and public access, according to Bannock County spokesperson Emma Iannacone.
Previously, officials believed the pathology center could be located at ISU’s Eames Complex on Alvin Ricken Drive in Pocatello. However, officials realized that facility would not work because of design and accessibility issues, Iannacone said.
“Bannock County Commissioner Jeff Hough has scheduled some time in December to look at locations with ISU staff members and Ada County Coroner Dotti Owens,” Iannacone said.
She added that there’s no estimate yet on when the new center will be ready to open.
Idaho State University will also have access to the new facility for training and research.
“This center is a great opportunity for all of Southeast Idaho. We are committed to collaborating with Bannock County on this exciting initiative,” said Idaho State University President Kevin Satterlee. “When we can work together to both fill a community need and provide real-life education for our students, everyone wins.”
Funding for the center includes a $900,000 state supplemental appropriation for the project approved by the Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee in March. Bannock County commissioners agreed to cover the remaining $2 million needed for the pathology center using American Rescue Plan Act money.
The center is expected to be self-sustaining through fees paid by participating counties and the streamlined effectiveness of death investigations.
In 2020 and 2021, the Bannock County Coroner’s Office spent over $40,000 on autopsy and toxicology services.
Danner says the new East Idaho Pathology Center won’t put a huge dent in the overall cost the county expends for autopsy and toxicology services, but it will save the county some money in terms of travel costs associated with officials traveling to Ada County for every autopsy. Additionally, Danner says the facility will ensure autopsies for Bannock and other East Idaho counties can be completed in a timely manner.
“The biggest reason we want to open a facility up here is that right now we are at the mercy of Ada County,” Danner said. “If the Ada County coroner were to call us and tell us they couldn’t do autopsies for us anymore, then we would be in big trouble because we wouldn’t have anywhere else to go. It also saves us time and gas money driving up to Boise. We would still be spending about the same amount of money per autopsy.”
Hough says the plan to operate the East Idaho Pathology Center involves the county hiring a business operations manager for the facility who will report to an advisory board that ultimately reports back to the Bannock County Commission.
“We will have a budget in place that the business operations manager will manage,” Hough said. “We intend to hire a pathologist and a few assistants to get us started.”
Initially, Hough says the new center will conduct the autopsies for Bannock County and 16 others including Bear Lake, Bingham, Blaine, Bonneville, Butte, Caribou, Cassia, Clark, Franklin, Fremont, Jefferson, Madison, Minidoka, Oneida, Power and Teton. The long-term objective is to become a full-service pathology center but until that happens Bannock County intends to request toxicology analysis from elsewhere, Hough added.
“On a scale of 1-10, I am at a 9 right now,” Hough said about his excitement level for the new facility. “We have really been pushing hard to get this done and this memorandum of understanding between the county and ISU really puts the fire under this.”