Funeral home directors in Greater Los Angeles have been forced to turn away grieving families as the fatal COVID-19 wave hitting the area has left them unable to handle more bodies.
According to the L.A. Daily News, the backlog is “straining local hospitals’ morgue capacity, forcing them to transport the deceased to the county’s coroner.”
The Associated Press interviewed Magda Maldonado, owner of the Continental Funeral Home in L.A.
“I’ve been in the funeral industry for 40 years and never in my life did I think that this could happen, that I’d have to tell a family, ‘No, we can’t take your family member,’” she told the outlet.
The AP recently reported that Continental was “averaging about 30 body removals a day – six times its normal rate.” Maldonado rented extra 50-foot refrigerators for two of the four facilities she operates in the L.A. area.
Elected leaders said last week that officials would temporarily store bodies at the Los Angeles County medical examiner-coroner’s office because of the lack of space.
“It’s such a grim reality,” said L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis, who served as U.S. Secretary of Labor in the Obama administration. “I’m compelled to say this because it’s gotten to the point where we need to show the true toll of what this virus has taken and can take.”
Solis said members of the California National Guard would help the county coroner through the end of the month, possibly longer.
As The Daily News reported:
In a normal scenario, when a person dies under a doctor’s care at a hospital, a physician will sign a death certificate and that person will ultimately be transported to a mortuary. The coroner’s office generally takes a body only when seeking to determine the circumstances, manner, and cause of “all sudden, violent, or unusual deaths, and those deaths where the deceased has not been seen by a physician 20 days prior to death,” according to the department.
But now, mortuaries have become so backed up with bodies that hospitals are now leaning on the coroner’s office for increased capacity, officials said.
The coroner’s office installed additional refrigerated storage units at the beginning of the pandemic to increase body storage capacity.
Rob Karlin, who owns the Los Angeles Funeral Service in Culver City, said this is the first time he’s had to turn people away since he founded the operation more than 15 years ago.
“I’ve never been in a position where I had to say, ‘I’m sorry. I can’t help you,’” Karlin told The L.A. Times.
He went on to provide more insight to the outlet:
Karlin attributed his capacity issues both to the rising caseload and to a slowdown in the process of burying the dead. Obtaining death certificates, retrieving bodies from the coroner, embalming them – “everything is taking longer,” he said.
Embalmers, he added, are treating every body as if it had been infected with COVID-19. “They’re taking extra precautions and using a lot of bleach,” he said. “There’s an uncertainty about how long it’s dangerous on a dead body. I don’t know. There’s so much unknown.
On Monday, the L.A. County Department of Public Health confirmed 77 new deaths, which it said: “reflects reporting delays over the New Year’s holiday weekend.” To date, the agency has identified 827,498 positive cases and 10,850 deaths.
“When this surge began in early-November, there was an average of 791 people hospitalized daily with COVID-19,” the agency said in a news release. “On January 2, just two days ago, the three-day average number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 was at a staggering 7,623 patients.”
L.A. Public Health projected daily deaths countywide could rise to 175 by the end of the month if cases increase as the agency anticipates.