‘Bodies Piling Up:’ Morgue Opened in Baltimore Parking Garage to Deal with Autopsy Backlog

FILE - In this April 26, 2018, file photo, a man lies on the sidewalk beside a recyclable trash bin in San Francisco. A record 621 people died of drug overdoses in San Francisco so far this year, a staggering number that far outpaces the 173 deaths from COVID-19 the …
Ben Margot, File / AP Photo

The Maryland Department of Health (MDH) converted a downtown Baltimore parking garage into a morgue to deal with an “unprecedented backlog of autopsies” of people who have been murdered or have overdosed, WMAR Baltimore reported on Tuesday.

“The bodies are piling up and decaying right in front of everyone’s eyes,” said Patrick Moran, President of AFSCME Council 3 Patrick Moran told the outlet. “Bodies are decomposing and that’s not the way to treat those that have lost their lives and families who are looking for closure.”

According to the report, more than 200 bodies are awaiting autopsy. Montgomery County Democrat Delegate Kirill Reznik said some of the remains are being kept in refrigerated truck trailers in the garage and loading dock, CBS News reported. Procurement documents analyzed by a CBS affiliate discovered that the garage is being rented for $30,000 per month.

Moran told WMAR that union members “describe a gruesome scene at the agency in Baltimore.”

“It’s pretty vile and it’s pretty unhealthy,” Moran said.

The Maryland Department of Health is reportedly using the garage until a permanent expansion can be built.

“The additional storage that has been provided allows adequate capacity for decedents that may be awaiting autopsy as well as decedents who are completed and awaiting funeral homes,” Dr. Jinlene Chan, Deputy Secretary of MDH, said at a House subcommittee meeting last week.

Chan credited the backlog to high vacancy rates as well, “17.2 percent in December,” to which an MDH spokesperson confirmed a “nationwide shortage of qualified applicants.” According to the report, three positions have been vacant for nearly a year, and several medical examiners have either resigned or retired. At least three more are “expected to retire soon.”

“To assist with the growing workload, MDH added 21 new positions, including medical examiners, toxicologists, and support professionals,” the outlet found. “In the meantime, FEMA is supplying two pathologists and two pathology assistants to provide additional support to OCME beginning this week.”

Erich W. March, VP and CEO of March Funeral Homes, told WMAR that the backlog is negatively impacting families who have lost loved ones.

“The families are anxious anyway because they have lost someone who’s dear to them so it adds onto the anxiety level,” March said.

March added that delays are also making planning memorial services more difficult for families because “they don’t have a real set date as to when preparations can be completed.”

In another report, WMAR noted that in January 2022, Baltimore City reported 36 homicides and 49 non-fatal shootings — “the deadliest January since the 1970s.” Last year, the Democrat-run city saw its seventh consecutive year of more than 300 homicides.

WJZ13 reported on February 11 that opioid overdoses remain “among one of the state’s leading causes of death.” Nationwide from April 2020 to April 2021, more than 100,000 people died from drug overdoses — a 28 percent increased compared to the previous year, according to Centers for Disease Control and prevention data.

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