Wyoming County Coroner Tom Kukuchka met with the county commissioners last week and delivered some sobering news.
His office will likely be more than $60,000 over budget.
However, more staggering than the dollars, Kukuchka said, is the lives lost in Wyoming County due to violent deaths so far in 2017: five homicides, 10 suicides and seven drug overdose fatalities with six more pending.
He said that each of the pending cases costs $2,500-$3,000, for investigation and followup, and that’s already $40,000 over budget.
“Where does it stop?” he asked. “And we still haven’t heard from November and December. I hope we don’t hit $80,000.”
Kukuchka said the commissioners are agreed that what he’s facing is not good news, “But it is what it is, and they’ve told me I just have to keep on doing what I do so the public has trust in the process.”
“Who would have dreamed we’d have a complete mental health breakdown like we did at Weis Markets in June?” county director of Human Services Mike Donahue asked.
He said there have been troubling things happening in the county that give him great pause such as when Community Counseling Services pulled out its lone psychiatrist serving the county from an office in the basement of Tyler Hospital in July.
“That leaves the most vulnerable even more vulnerable,” he said.
Donahue said that the spike in suicide deaths from five in 2016 to 10 so far this year is really troubling, and he’s had conversations with mental health/disability services about how to tackle that.
They’ve talked about handing out flyers but this goes much deeper than that.”
“There will be no easy fixes,” he cautions.
Kukuchka said that part of the problem is too many available drugs in the wrong hands. He applauds the drug take back program but says it doesn’t go far enough.
But, he thinks he is getting some relief from Sen. Lisa Baker and that is on removing medications from a home when someone passes in a hospice environment.
He said that in some instances drugs end up back with the family and really shouldn’t be there, because in some instances if in thee wrong hands and the spiral never breaks.
Kukuchka said Baker is looking for a co-sponsor in the Senate.
Both Kukuchka and Donahue said that because the numbers look so troubling, they have joined hands with the University of Pittsburgh medical school in getting some help analyzing what could be going on in the community.
“They are there to help rural communities and that is a good thing,” Donahue said.
However, as bad as the numbers look, Kukuchka said there is another element, and that is what happens when a person is put on life support and then dies in another county.
“Rural counties need to figure out a way to track that as wellm” he said. “With seven drug deaths and six pending, we need to be prepared that the numbers could get a lot worse before they get better.”