Heat deaths increased so dramatically, investigating them caused a Maricopa County budget shortfall

By Katherine Davis-Young
Published: Wednesday, September 27, 2023 - 2:35pm
Updated: Thursday, September 28, 2023 - 8:33am

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maricopa county medical examiner
Katherine Davis-Young/KJZZ
The Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office

There were so many heat-related deaths in Maricopa County this summer that several county offices responsible for investigating those cases ran over budget. 

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday approved an extra $300,000 for the county’s Department of Emergency Management, Office of the Medical Examiner and Department of Public Health to make up for unanticipated costs associated with this summer's surge in deaths. Uncommitted money from the county's general fund will cover the expenses. 

Speaking to KJZZ News last month, County Medical Examiner Dr. Jeff Johnston said most of his staff were working overtime in July.

Dr. Jeff Johnston
Katherine Davis-Young/KJZZ
Dr. Jeff Johnston, Maricopa County medical examiner.

“We certainly increased more working hours, we added a lot of shifts, we were operating at 68% above what our typical operating maximums are. And these were sustained over the course of this whole four-week surge," Johnston said. 

The Office of the Medical Examiner also paid for temporary morgue site storage amid this summer's unprecedented heat wave.

Maricopa County has confirmed 295 heat deaths so far this year. 298 more deaths are still under investigation. Those numbers are about 33% higher than at the same point last year. Johnston said he is certain 2023 will be a record-breaking year for heat deaths. 

Heat deaths have broken records every summer in Maricopa County since 2016. But this was the first year a spike in fatalities led to significant budget shortfalls, according to the county.

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