Morgue capacity running low at some local hospitals grappling with COVID-19 admissions

Posted at 6:03 PM, Jan 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-26 20:19:47-05

Officials at Tri-Health and the University of Cincinnati Medical Center said Tuesday they have begun to use cooling trailers as mobile morgues because morgue space is running low during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The need for the mobile morgues arose during the post-Thanksgiving COVID-19 spike that arrived in early December, and hospitals have kept them because morgue capacity has wavered between low and full ever since.

"It is very much hidden from the public view, and that's very intentional, just out of respect for the deceased," said Christa Hyson, assistant director of The Health Collaborative, a nonprofit helping to oversee hospital capacity in Cincinnati.

UCMC said its additional mortuary capacity is predominantly a precautionary measure, but a spokesperson for Tri-Health said morgues in their hospitals, including Bethesda North, are "consistently near or over capacity."

WCPO also reached out to the The Christ Hospital, but they did not respond.

TriHealth and other regional hospitals are experiencing a higher volume of critical COVID patients who are passing away in our facilities due to the increase in community infections. Coupled with funeral homes also reaching capacity, our morgues are consistently near or over capacity. To continue to provide essential and respectful end-of-life treatment to those in our care, we have reached the point where we must proactively prepare to expand morgue capacity for the entire system by temporarily using a refrigerated truck at our Bethesda North campus. This truck was put into service last month and we ask for the media’s respect at this difficult time.

--Michael Mattingly, spokesperson for Tri-Health

Herb Walker, president of the Greater Cincinnati Funeral Director's Association, is part of a team in charge of Ohio's plan to deal with a surge in deaths. He said his funeral homes used to accommodate 100 bodies over the course of one month.

"We've had close to over 200 cases in the month of December," Walker said.

He said the surge in hospitalizations and deaths began just after Thanksgiving and has steadily grown since then.

None of the hospitals commented on how many patients their morgues normally accommodate or how much extra space has been needed. Hyson said some mobile morgues fit four deceased people, while others can fit up to 72.

"We want to make sure that is done in the most respectful way possible," said Hyson. "I know that it would be hard to hear that your loved one has to potentially be in a mobile morgue, but that is the reality of the pandemic."

At UC Health, our care teams have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic to provide advanced medical care to the most critically ill patients in our community. The fall surge in COVID-19 resulted in record-high numbers of hospitalized patients within our health system and others. We have added mortuary capacity to support our three inpatient locations as a precautionary measure.

--Amanda Nageleisen, spokesperson for UC Health