Supervisors OK five-year contract with forensic pathologist

The Board of Supervisors today 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.

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“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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