As it deals with near-record COVID patients and a continually growing community, St. Charles on Wednesday announced it has acquired a refrigerated trailer to serve as a mobile morgue.
The 17-food Acela Truck pull-trailer was delivered to the Bend hospital last week and is already in use.
“It has been a known gap in our emergency preparedness for a number of years,” said Lara Simpson, St. Charles’ supply chain director. “With this recent COVID-19 surge, we just finally hit that critical point where we needed to do something.”
Built back in the early 1970s, the Bend hospital’s morgue is only large enough for three decedents.
On at least three occasions recently, the number of decedents exceeded the morgue’s capacity and were stored elsewhere in the hospital until local funeral homes were available to transport them, Simpson said.
In one seven-day period alone, 19 people died, all but six from COVID-19.
“Sadly, this mobile morgue is a critical need right now,” she said.
The mobile morgue—which is equipped to run on both electricity and a diesel generator—is large enough to hold 24 decedents.
The health system purchased it for $82,000.
Next week, Deschutes County Commissioners are expected to discuss using ARPA funds to purchase the trailer from St. Charles, hospital officials said.
“Buying mobile morgue capacity to help us store bodies, fatalities from this pandemic, is a really important use of these funds,” County Commissioner Phil Chang said. “I would have preferred to use these funds earlier in the process on things that would have prevented these deaths.”
The County’s Emergency Management program could use the trailer as a resource to assist in response to natural disasters.