Jessica Blahnik regional morgue marathon county

Morgue force

A task force will look at developing a county morgue. So far 34 counties are interested in bringing their dead bodies to Marathon County.

A new task force looking at the possibility of bringing a regional morgue to Marathon County will kick off soon, as death investigations continue to skyrocket in Marathon County. 


Medical examiner Jessica Blahnik had been leading the charge for the county to start its own morgue.

Medical Examiner Jessica Blahnik says she already has a forensic pathologist ready to move to Wausau and work at the morgue, and knows of several others who are interested. More than 34 counties are interested in using a Marathon County morgue, since currently the only facilities where autopsies can be performed are in the southern part of the state. Even areas in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan are interested, Blahnick says.

County leaders first floated the idea of a morgue several years ago and since then caseloads have increased even more, leaving the medical examiner’s office swamped. Its total death cases in the county have nearly tripled since 2006, and increased 24% between 2013 and 2016, according to data provided by Blahnik. An increasing amount of overdose cases and other suspicious deaths are leading to this rise, Blahnik says. Those suspicious deaths mean more autopsies, which are time consuming because medical examiner office staff must accompany the body to Madison or other morgues for the autopsy. This year’s numbers are so far on track to be even higher than previous years.

The county’s Finance and Human Resources committees approved a new full time medical examiner position that, if approved by the county board, would start Oct. 1. In hiring that position, the medical examiner office would eliminate four of its eight on-call positions. The new position would cost the county at least $85,000, but trimming its on-call staff would save $15,000. And the county is projected to earn $10,000 more in cremation fees.

There’s also interest in partnerships, including with the Wausau campus of the Medical College of Wisconsin, which could use the morgue for training purposes.