The Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has turned a parking garage into a makeshift morgue to deal with a significant backlog of bodies.
According to a WMAR report, more than 200 bodies await autopsy, and the number keeps growing.
The backlog is holding up funeral services, criminal investigations, and prosecutions. Maryland Chief Medical Examiner Victor Weedn told the Washington Post he expected the state’s backlog to hit 300 by the end of the month.
Because they were running out of space, the Maryland Department of Health converted a parking garage in downtown Baltimore, which is responsible for investigating violent and suspicious deaths, including all deaths unattended by a physician.
“The bodies are piling up and decaying right in front of everyone’s eyes,” Patrick Moran, president of AFSCME Council 3, which members include autopsy assistants and forensic investigators. “Bodies are decomposing, and that’s not the way to treat those that have lost their lives and families who are looking for closure.”
The Maryland Department of Health blamed the backlog on high vacancies and increased drug overdoses and shooting deaths, but another significant reason is a staffing shortage. Moran said in a press conference that three positions have been open for more than a year, five medical examiners have retired or resigned over the last two years, and three more are expected to retire soon.
“We need them to recruit more people to do the job,” Moran said at the presser. “They need to look at what resources people need to do the job, the salary they need to do the job and take action.”
The situation isn’t isolated to Maryland. New Hampshire, Georgia, New Mexico, and even New York City are dealing with autopsy backlogs. Those states cite the same issues as Maryland, including staffing issues, increased deaths due to the COVID-19 pandemic, violence, and drugs.
Weedn has asked the federal government to deploy its disaster mortuary response team to the state. The team includes medical examiners and forensic specialists who handle mass fatalities tied to terrorist attacks, such as 9/11, and natural disasters, including Hurricane Katrina.
A spokesperson from the Department of Health and Human Services told the Post it would send five fatality management experts to support the Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. It will also send personnel to New Mexico.