As bodies increase, pressure growing on county coroner

first_imgOvercrowding in the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office has gotten so bad over the years that bodies sometimes have to be stacked to accommodate them all, according to nearly a dozen employees who publicly decried the conditions Tuesday outside the office. “How would you like it if your loved one’s body was sent to a place where it was treated with the respect and care ordinarily given to a sack of potatoes?” asked Greg Myers, a deputy coroner/forensic attendant. “Our management’s lack of action to address the overcrowding has led to dangerous conditions for our workers and shoddy treatment of the bodies placed in our care.” County officials said Tuesday that despite $21 million in allocations over the past eight years for renovations to the facility, the project has languished because of cost disputes. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBasketball roundup: Sierra Canyon, Birmingham set to face off in tournament quarterfinalsChief Administrative Officer David Janssen said the coroner would like a new, larger facility that could relieve overcrowded conditions – at a cost of more than $100 million. The Board of Supervisors, until recently, has preferred to renovate the existing facility for $20 million to $30 million. The move would improve ventilation and safety but would not expand its storage capacity. But Janssen said that in the wake of employee complaints about overcrowding, he plans to recommend the supervisors pursue the feasibility of constructing a new facility on the current Mission Road site near County/USC Medical Center. “It’s going to be tricky,” said Assistant Administrative Officer John Edmisten. “It’s not an easy site to build a new building on. That’s why we’re talking about a feasibility study.” But officials with Service Employees International Union, Local 660, said that even as the crowding has worsened, the department has acquired a nearby parking lot and a historic County/USC administrative building for office space. “What it points out is that their priorities seem to be out of order,” said Mark Tarnawsky, a spokesman for the SEIU, which will begin contract talks with the county next month. “They seem to be more interested in finding additional office space for themselves and less interested in finding additional space to store the deceased.” Coroner’s Office Capt. Ed Winter said the building was refurbished for another county department that decided not to use it and turned it over to the coroner. “We did not purchase the parking lot and we did not pay for the building,” Winter said. “We are overcrowded in the crypts. We admit that and we’re attempting to remedy that.” The crypts are designed to hold about 325 bodies but regularly exceed 400 as a result of population growth, immigration and the difficulty in locating immigrants’ next of kin, who often live abroad. Winter said his office is holding about 200 bodies of people for whom they have been unable to locate next of kin, or whose families have said they can’t afford cremation or burial. After searching for next of kin for a year, coroner’s officials send the bodies to the morgue for cremation, but the morgue also is backlogged, Winter said. Coroner’s officials are expected to report to the supervisors next Tuesday on the situation. “We will ask the coroner to explain how previously allocated funds have been spent and what it will take to make corrective actions to ensure that bodies are treated and disposed of respectfully and expeditiously,” said Tony Bell, spokesman for Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich. [email protected] (213) 974-8985160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more