Hennepin County’s top pathologist, Dr. Andrew Baker, showed out the new autopsy room in the Minnetonka location of the Medical Examiner’s Office.
Andrew Baker 2004 Present the Hennepin County Medical Examiner
Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office is located in a modest, unremarkable, and practically windowless structure in the shadow of U.S. Bank Stadium. This year, a close-knit staff of 50 will investigate a record 10,000 deaths.
The vast majority of fatalities will result from organic causes, non-automobile accidents, self-inflicted harm, and drug overdoses. Just 5% of all criminal cases involve homicide. While the bulk of COVID-19 cases have been handled by the state, the office is prepared to take on any extra work that may be required.
County officials had planned to establish a new facility on undeveloped ground close to the County Home School in Minnetonka more than seven years before the epidemic. The new $53 million building will house a medical examiner’s office unlike any other in the country when it opens in November.
In 2020, after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd, the office of the medical examiner received unprecedented scrutiny from the public. Further infuriating Floyd’s family and community activists was the decision by Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker to release the autopsy results a full week after Floyd’s death.
Baker said last week that he couldn’t discuss the case in depth because of pending trials against the cops involved in Floyd’s death, but that he worked with the legal system to bring out his work product because the world deserved to know what he found and didn’t discover in that autopsy. The people, in my opinion, should not have accepted less.
Hennepin County’s board of commissioners has reappointed Baker as chief medical examiner four times since 2004. There was a reappointment less than a month following Floyd’s death, which was the most recent.
The county had already spent $8 million on renovations to the building by the time he arrived in 1999. Hennepin Healthcare had used the building as a kitchen for the hospital and the county’s Meals on Wheels programme until it was converted into the Medical Examiner’s Office. There were body saws all throughout the place, and their power connections were all over the floor.
In 2013, it was Decided the Space was Too Tiny.
Hennepin County had already expanded to serve Dakota and Scott counties at that point. Hennepin was able to secure $17 million in bonding monies after pushing the Legislature for two years.
When told it would take nearly a decade to construct its new site in Minnetonka, Baker scoffed at the prediction. When the bridge over I-35W collapsed in 2007, he quipped that it was rebuilt in a little over a year.
Before designing the 64,000 square foot facility, Baker and his team visited almost a dozen medical examiner offices around North America to learn about best practises. He said that just three construction companies in the entire country focus on building crime labs and medical examiner offices.
The new building is revolutionary in many aspects, including its advanced energy efficiency and user-friendly design. Workplace accidents increased dramatically when mortuary workers were required to move bodies from gurneys to tables.
This new ability to adjust the height of the tables means that doctors and investigators may avoid using risers. The office will also have its own CT scanner that will allow for a more exact display of evidence for trials and cut down on autopsy times.
The new building will include skylights, vibrant paint, and artwork on the walls, setting it apart from the previous location. Even the parking area is frequented by wild turkeys, and the property features a prairie and marsh. In the building, there is a dedicated autopsy room where investigators and attorneys may watch the process unfold.
The Medical Examiner’s Office will be the Envy of the Nation, as stated by Baker.
The vast majority of deaths reported to the agency are determined to be accidental or due to causes other than violence.
Baker has stated that 14% of the cases are suicides, however this fact is rarely discussed. He considers his office to be a public health organisation since, like drug overdoses, it is a cause of mortality that can be mitigated to some extent. The number of examining tables and body storage capacity will nearly triple in the new space.
Overdose locations from the deadly synthetic opioid carfentanil were reported to local authorities by this office when it first appeared in the Twin Cities a few years ago. Personnel are also involved in boards addressing mental health and newborn mortality.
According to Baker, the county needs a new building because this year the agency will perform 1,500 autopsies, an all-time high. Homicides and drug overdoses are mostly to blame for the increase; however, not all suspicious deaths require an autopsy.
On a recent tour of the new facility, Nancy Larson, granddaughter of Gilbert Seashore, a prior chief medical examiner for Hennepin County, said she was “blown away” by the new facility.
Though she never knew her grandfather, she believes he would be pleased with the finished structure. The items he left behind, such as a diary he wrote in during the Great Depression, will be displayed on a particular set of bookcases.
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