OKANOGAN – Coroner Dave Rodriguez asked Okanogan County commissioners on Monday, Oct. 11, to help figure out how to store bodies of deceased people when the county morgue and three funeral homes are full.
“We are maxed out, or close to maxed out,” he said in an interview after the meeting. “I talked to commissioners about needs and future needs.”
COVID-19 plays a role, although not all the bodies are of coronavirus victims, he said. He said more people are dying, with some of them apparently staying home while ill instead of seeking hospital care because area hospitals are dealing with COVID patients. He’s also seeing more suicides and overdose deaths.
“There’s not a rash of a specific kind” of death, he said.
The county morgue facility, in Okanogan, has space for six bodies. Combined, Okanogan County’s three funeral services – Precht-Harrison-Nearents, Bergh and Barnes – have a combined capacity of 16.
Depending on the situation, a body might need to be housed for a day or two, or up to several months, Rodriguez said. Sometimes a family needs a day or two to process the death or time to arrange for transport to another area or country, while in other cases a family can’t be located or doesn’t want to claim the body. If an autopsy is needed, those arrangements must be made.
The bodies are neither embalmed nor frozen – only refrigerated, he said.
Okanogan County has a contract with Snohomish County, which has a large facility, to which it can ship the overflow.
Rodriguez said the Chelan County area is dealing with the same issue and has decided to purchase a refrigerator truck as a short-term solution.
He said he went to the commissioners Monday “with guns blazing” because of the problem, but was soon calmed by the commissioners, who said they realized there was a problem.
A possible solution is to follow Chelan County’s lead and buy a refrigerator truck, but a better solution would be to expand and update the current facility, Rodriguez said. He got the green light from commissioners to explore options.