Local News

$52 million facility brings NC lab, medical examiner's office together

Posted October 8, 2012 3:35 p.m. EDT
Updated October 8, 2012 7:23 p.m. EDT

— A $52 million state-of-the-art facility in west Raleigh officially brought the State Laboratory of Public Health and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner together Monday afternoon.

The current Medical Examiner's Office has been located on the campus of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill for 40 years, and the laboratory has been in downtown Raleigh for the same amount of time. The two are now being combined in a 222,000-square-foot facility in west Raleigh.

"We outgrew our facility at least 15 years ago," said Chief Medical Examiner Debi Radisch of the facility in Chapel Hill.

Gov. Bev Perdue joined state Health and Human Services Secretary Al Delia at the ceremony at 2 p.m. Monday to officially open the building, which is located off Blue Ridge Road in Raleigh.

"The work that goes on here, although none of us think about it, is so critically important to the day-to-day lives of North Carolinians," Perdue said.

While the state medical examiner handles 2,200 cases per year, the current facility only has two examination tables, meaning pathologists have to wait for someone to finish before they can perform an autopsy.

"You're basically waiting to do an autopsy all day," Radisch said.

The new building has six tables, which Radisch says will allow her staff to be more efficient.

"We would hope that we would be performing four autopsies at the same time," Radisch said.

The new facility also has cameras for observation and teaching, as well as a high-tech X-ray machine.

"It can do a full-body x-ray if that's what we want in about 13 seconds," Radisch said.

Refrigerated storage areas that can hold up to 100 bodies are in the facility, which could be necessary in the case of mass casualties.

"That wasn't anything people were thinking about 40 years ago, but everybody's thinking about it now," Radisch said.

In its current space, the state medical examiner has not been able to get national accreditation. They hope the new facility will help them meet those standards.

"The current facility doesn't meet current day standards because its almost 40 years old," Radisch said. "Things people didn't think about 40 years ago are very important these days."

The State Laboratory of Public Health is currently located in the Bath Building in downtown Raleigh, which opened in 1973. The current building has neither have the space nor the equipment to meet the state's needs. The State Laboratory of Public Health performs newborn tests on every baby born in a North Carolina hospital, as well working as a regional training site for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new public health lab will conduct tests for things such as E. Coli and West Nile Virus, perform newborn genetic screenings and give HIV tests. 

Unlike the former lab, the new lab will meet national standards for handling threats such as bioterrorism or major chemical spills. 

The new facility is expected to house 270 employees. They will move into new building beginning in late October, and all employees are expected to be in the new facility by early 2013.