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

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.

“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  confirmed295 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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Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent. She has produced work for NPR, New England Public Radio, Southern California Public Radio, PRI's The World, Washington Post, Reuters and more.She has a master’s degree in radio journalism from the USC Annenberg School of Journalism.She lives in central Phoenix with her husband, two daughters, and ill-behaved cat and dog. Her side-passions include photography, crosswords and hot sauce.