Maryland Turns Parking Garage into Makeshift Morgue with 300 Bodies

Amid staffing shortages and an increase in deaths caused by violence, COVID-19, and drug overdoses, the Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has turned a downtown Baltimore parking garage into a makeshift morgue to deal with a significant backlog of autopsies.

While more than 200 bodies await autopsy, and the number keeps growing – the state’s backlog is expected to hit 300 by the end of the month – the backlog is holding up funeral services, criminal investigations, and prosecutions, Maryland Chief Medical Examiner Victor Weedn says.

Bodies that are awaiting autopsies are being investigated in cases of violent and suspicious deaths, including all deaths unattended by a physician, and are reportedly being stored in refrigerated truck trailers in the garage and a loading dock after the Maryland authorities responded to the swelling number of autopsies needed.

Citing procurement documents given to the Maryland Board of Public Works, media reports say that authorities are paying $30,000 a month to rent the garage.

According to WUSA9, mortuary vehicles drove in and out of the facility since Monday, and, in the meantime, the Maryland Department of Health has assigned a recruitment specialist to help staff the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and is offering competitive salaries and engaging in direct outreach for jobs, adding 21 additional positions to staff including medical examiners, toxicologists, and support employees.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is also bolstered with two pathologists and two pathology assistants sent by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) which is also stepping in to help.

Although the main reason behind the backlog are high vacancies and increased drug overdoses and shooting deaths, the Maryland Department of Health pointed to another significant reason – staffing shortage. According to the Department, five medical examiners have retired or resigned over the last two years, and three more are expected to retire soon, and added that three positions have been open for more than a year.

Media reports point out that a number of other states, including New Hampshire and Washington, are experiencing similar problems in the medical examiner offices.

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