Oakland County is scouting ice rinks to store bodies during the coronavirus pandemic if its morgue runs out of space, county officials said Wednesday.
Casimir Miarka, administrator for the Oakland County Medical Examiner's Office, said the ice rinks would be used in a worst-case scenario.
County spokesman Bill Mullan said the morgue took in 10 bodies Wednesday from a hospital with its own morgue at capacity, the first since the coronavirus pandemic hit Michigan in March. He declined to identify the hospital.
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But he said it underscores the fact that "we're still in the thick of this fight. Our M.E. now has to help with storage."
Miarka said he did not know the cause of death for the bodies brought in Wednesday, and whether they were related to COVID-19.
The morgue has two refrigerated units on its premises to store bodies brought in by area hospitals. Each can hold 20 to 25 bodies.
Wayne County has also brought in refrigerated units to handle any surge in COVID-19 deaths.
Other health systems have also brought in refrigerated units to cope with a surge in COVID-19 cases.
A spokesman for the Detroit Medical Center confirmed it has mobile refrigeration units.
"Like hospitals in New York and elsewhere, we have secured additional resources such as mobile refrigeration units to help temporarily manage the capacity issue caused by COVID-19," Brian Taylor told the Free Press this week.
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Beaumont Health spokeswoman Beth Montalvo said, "While COVID-19 has put a strain on our hospital-based morgues, Beaumont is managing with the process for handling confirmed or suspected COVID-19 remains in a safe and respectful manner." She said the system has a refrigerated unit.
Dr. Betty Chu, associate chief clinical officer and chief quality officer at Henry Ford Health System, said Monday that it, too, had to find a way to accommodate the rising death toll.
"We do have refrigeration units that are carefully designed to provide a safe and respectful environment. Our team provides the same level of care and honor when using these units as we do inside our own facilities and we will continue to steward this mission until all those that we have lost can be moved to their final resting place."
Miarka said hospitals that bring bodies to the Oakland County morgue will be responsible for storing them in the refrigerated units. Hospital employees must wear personal protective equipment and spray down body bags with disinfectant. The hospitals must also have someone present when a funeral home comes to collect remains at the morgue.
The bodies will not be mixed with the medical examiner's cases — bodies that are in the morgue for autopsies because the death was a homicide or was otherwise suspicious.
"These other deaths the hospitals are dealing with are natural deaths and don’t fall under our jurisdiction," he said.
Miarka said the medical examiner's office is working with the state to see if it can get refrigerated units sent to local hospitals, and it is also talking with ice rinks about storage if the situation becomes especially dire.
"That's our very last resort," Miarka said. "We hope we would never get to that point."
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