JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The first relief for the backup of bodies at the Fourth Judicial Circuit Medical Examiner's Office arrived Monday.
At least once a month since November, Dr. Valerie Rao said the morgue said it runs out of space to keep bodies. For months, she has begged for help, saying the office was out of room to house the increasing number of bodies of people who have died from violence, in accident or because of a drug overdose.
In January, the city of Jacksonville approved $206,000 to get the office some help. On Monday, a trailer funded out of that money pulled up next to the ME's office: enough space for six employees to work.
"Dr. Rao and I are really excited and really appreciative to the mayor and the City Council for taking care (of this)," said Tim Crutchfield, director of operations. "It's for the citizens. It's for the public."
Next month the Medical Examiner is to get a new cooler that can hold more bodies.
The Medical Examiner’s Office continues to press for a long-term solution: a new, larger building. The city has that in its five-year capital plan, but nothing has been approved.
A history of morgue overcrowding
News4Jax has extensively reported on the opioid crisis for the past year, and it is the climbing overdose death rate that has contributed to capacity problem at the Medical Examiner's Office. Among the related stories over the past 10 months:
- May 2017: News4Jax given tour of morgue showing severity of overcrowding
- June 2017: 'Overwhelmed' Medical Examiner's Office asks a City Council committee for $4.5 million
- Nov. 2017: I-TEAM tracks email history documenting morgue overcrowding
- Dec. 5, 2017: City Council proposes a refrigerated trailer to house additional bodies
- Dec. 14, 2017: Mayor responds to “body on the floor” email and ME’s request for larger building
- Jan. 4, 2018: $206,000 for new cooler, mobile unit, supplies to address capacity issues approved
- Jan. 9, 2018: Council member says cooler is a good step, but the MEO needs a new building