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Mobile morgue purchased by St. Charles Bend to store bodies as death toll rises

(Updated: adding St. Charles statistics)

St. Charles acquires refrigerated trailer to increase morgue capacity

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Acting quickly is the norm for health care professionals, especially during a pandemic. But St. Charles Bend is experiencing a new level of challenges. As a result, St. Charles now has a 17-foot refrigerated mobile morgue trailer, to deal with a higher number of deaths.

Lara Simpson, supply chain director for St. Charles, told NewsChannel 21 Wednesday that the hospital's morgue can't keep up with the number of patients who pass away.

Goodman said the hospital has averaged 2.7 deaths a day this month, nearly double the 1.4 deaths a day seen in June, and 64% of the deaths in September have been COVID-related, compared to just 2% in September of last year.

"There were times of day where we would see more decedents than what we had space to accommodate in our morgue," Simpson said.

The morgue at St. Charles Bend only has space for three bodies. Hospital representatives say they've had to store the bodies in other places around the hospital.

As of Wednesday morning, St. Charles has 90 Covid-19 patients, 17 of whom are in the ICU, with 15 on ventilators. Simpson said in one week alone, 19 people died, 13 of them from Covid.

"It's preventable. That's what's so sad," Simpson said, joining other health experts in noting that most of those seriously ill and in the hospital were not vaccinated.

That's why the hospital purchased the $82,000 trailer. Simpson says there's always been a need for more space in the morgue, but the hospital has never experienced this many decedents in a short timeframe. That's why the purchase was made, a decision not taken lightly.

"That was a heavy, heavy week for me," Simpson said. "And I'm so grateful we were able to get one so quickly."

The mobile morgue is able to hold 24 bodies. It can run on both electricity and a diesel generator. The Acela Truck pull-trailer was delivered to the Bend hospital last week and is already in use.

Next week, the Deschutes County Board of Commissioners is expected to discuss using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to purchase the trailer from St. Charles. The county’s Emergency Management program could use the trailer as a resource to assist in response to natural disasters, the hospital said.

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