JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For the last year, the climbing overdose death rate has contributed to capacity problems at the Fourth Judicial Circuit Medical Examiner's Office in Jacksonville, which led to the City Council approving emergency funding for a mobile office and a cooler to store more bodies.
As for what's ahead for the morgue, Dr. Valerie Rao, the soon-to-retire chief medical examiner, told the city Wednesday morning what the office needs now.
Due to the opioid crisis and the number of homicides in Jacksonville, Rao asked for $4.8 million -- a $337,000 budget increase.
She said opioid overdoses are still a problem.
"We are still chasing the opioid crisis. It has not gone away. It's not going away anytime soon, I don’t believe," Rao said. "It's less than we faced this time last year, not a lot less, but we are hoping the trend will continue."
Another trend causing problems, according to Rao, is the number of homicides in Jacksonville.
"We had nine homicides two weeks ago. We had four on Monday ... two yesterday and one today," Rao said. "Jacksonville is, well, unfortunate."
The Medical Examiner’s Office continues to press for a long-term solution: a new, larger building. There are plans to build a new medical examiner's office, and the upcoming budget should include money to begin that process. But it will take several years before there's enough money to buy the land to build on and start construction.
As for the chief medical examiner, Rao will retire next month after more than six years leading the local office. She said she's confident the office will move forward without her.
"I think it's going to be very good," she said. "It’s in a very healthy state and everybody is so committed."
Though Rao will retire July 6, she said she will be around to answer questions about the upcoming budget, which the City Council will vote on in September.
Rao’s replacement has not yet been named.