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Home / Neighborhood / Riverside County / Board OKs Hemet animal services compact, contract with forensic pathologist

Board OKs Hemet animal services compact, contract with forensic pathologist

by City News Service
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The Riverside County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday signed off on a contract with Hemet to provide the municipality with county animal control services into the middle of next year at a cost of $1.21 million.

The Hemet City Council approved the nine-month agreement with the Riverside County Department of Animal Services in early September. The compact runs from Oct. 1, 2023, to June 30, 2024, with options for renewal.

According to a city statement, the new compact “represents a significant step forward in animal welfare for the city, providing residents with access to a broader range of services and expertise in animal care and control.”

An animal control officer will be assigned to the city full-time, and a new pickup truck will be acquired for the officer to use for patrol and retrieval operations, according to the agreement.

“This contract with Hemet will provide the city with a variety of services for the community and domestic pet population,” according to a Department of Animal Services statement.

Over the previous decade, Hemet has contracted with the San Jacinto-based nonprofit Ramona Humane Society. But the city said the organization’s “decision to shift its focus away from animal control and enforcement duties to concentrate on finding homes for sheltered pets” prompted concerns among officials about the level of service going forward.

A search was initiated for a replacement, and the Department of Animal Services “emerged as the best-suited partner to provide essential services,” according to the city.

“The reopening of the San Jacinto Valley Animal Campus is perfectly timed for this new and exciting partnership with Hemet,” agency Director Erin Gettis said recently. “We are very much looking forward to providing services and resources to Hemet residents and their pets.”

The department provides animal control to most municipalities in Riverside County, as well as several entities outside the county. However, along with the Ramona Humane Society, the nonprofit Animal Friends of the Valleys also delivers animal control and shelter services in several locations, principally the cities of Murrieta and Temecula.

Supervisors OK five-year contract with forensic pathologist

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a $1.3 million contract to retain an independent forensic pathologist over a five-year period to render autopsy services at the busy sheriff’s coroner’s bureau.

In a 5-0 vote without comment, the board authorized Sheriff Chad Bianco to hire Dr. Richard Cheng-Wu Ou of Rancho Palos Verdes without seeking competitive bids from other prospects, utilizing his services until June 30, 2028.

“Due to the number of autopsies and external examinations the coroner’s bureau performs annually, it must retain qualified physicians on contract to meet the increasing demand,” according to a sheriff’s statement.

“Forensic pathologists willing to take contract case work is optimal for both scheduling and cost. Due to the number of autopsies and external examinations that the bureau performs annually, it must retain qualified physicians on contract to meet the demand,” the statement added.

Ou has been a practicing physician in the United States since 2016. He has been licensed to work as a pathologist in the state since January 2018, according to the Medical Board of California. His business office is on North Mission Road in Los Angeles.

“With only 500 board-certified forensic pathologists in the nation, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department is fortunate to have a local doctor willing to … provide his or her services to assist in meeting the Riverside County’s needs,” the agency stated.

Officials described the coroner’s bureau as heavily burdened, with staff performing 3,285 forensic examinations in 2022 — roughly equal to the number performed the year prior.

There is one chief pathologist on staff, as well as two full-time doctors performing autopsies, supplemented by four contract pathologists. But the latter medical examiners also provide services in surrounding counties, according to the sheriff’s department.

“Filling forensic pathologist positions has proven difficult, which has led the coroner’s bureau to have recurring recruitments for numerous years,” the agency said. “There is a critical shortage of forensic pathologists in the United States, thus hiring experienced forensic pathologists is challenging.”

The base rate cost of an autopsy in Riverside County is $1,250. However, homicides or “suspicious death” autopsies run $1,850 per procedure. Partial autopsies, such as for only one limited segment of the body, cost $750. Postmortem testimony by a pathologist requires $1,500 in fees per case.

Officials said there is typically one pathologist in court every day.

Ou’s estimated annual base compensation is budgeted at $260,000.

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