Some western Washington morgues are over capacity

King County Public Health Director Dr Faisal Khan said many major metro areas across the country are facing a shortage of space in morgue coolers.

KING DISTRICT, Wash. — A comment at the most recent King County Health Board Meeting sparked controversy and discussion around the drug epidemic affecting western Washington.

“The medical examiner’s office is currently struggling with body storage issues as the number of fentanyl-related deaths continues to rise,” said King County Public Health Director Dr.

He says it’s an indication of how bad things will get by the end of 2022 and how they will be in 2023. Dr Khan said the Medical Examiner’s (ME) office has the space. limited in the coolers they use and space is being exceeded on a regular basis. He noted that this is a nationwide problem in many major metro areas.

KING 5 has reached out to King County Public Health to discuss this matter. They sent us a statement, which said that a fatal overdose was not the only reason they ran out of space. The statement reads, in part:

We have options to increase temporary mortuary capacity as our census numbers soar, including storing the deceased on autopsy stretchers and partnering with funeral homes. We are exploring long-term options to add more capacity.”

Nicole Daugherty, executive director at the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office, provided some insight into other reasons morgue capacity has become an issue for many counties in western Washington. .

Daugherty says HR has been the problem.

“There’s a national shortage of forensic pathologists, the doctors who perform autopsies,” she said. “We normally have three, but in 2022 we’ve lost two. We’re just hiring another person and then we’ll have another in March.”

That shortfall means that if they had 23 bodies in the morgue by Monday, their office would take at least until Tuesday to process them, Daugherty said.

Mortuary capacity is also affected by state law that requires ME offices to store bodies for 90 days.

“The law requires us to keep them for 90 days, do a thorough due diligence, check on loved ones. If you have a difficult case, they’ll sit in your morgue for more than 90 days and we’ve got more than that. and many more of them,” Daugherty said.

According to Daugherty, the impact of the pandemic remains a factor in morgue capacity problems.

“I think impacts beyond COVID itself, people delaying medical care, increasing alcohol use, all of that sort of thing are causing more people to die in their homes.”

According to Daugherty, when someone dies at their home, funeral homes will prioritize receiving those bodies over those in the morgue.

The majority of drug overdose deaths in Snohomish County have increased from 254 in 2021 to 276 in 2022, Daugherty said. The majority of those deaths are due to fentanyl, Daugherty said. They are assuming that will also get worse, exacerbating their space problems.

Finally, physical space is also an issue. Many morgues, especially cooling areas where bodies are kept, are built with limited capacity.

“It would have been more prudent to move to a new larger capacity building rather than continue here, but while we are here we are looking for a more efficient racking system and using partners available.”

Daugherty says you can help the morgue where you live by arranging post-mortem care in advance. That helps move bodies out of the morgue faster and saves you from dealing with business while grieving.

The statement from the King County Department of Public Health, referenced above, is the full text below.

If you or someone you know has an addiction or substance abuse disorder, call crisis connection Hotline at 1-866-789-1511 or visit for more resources. Some western Washington morgues are over capacity

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