Lakeland Regional Health adds refrigerator unit as deaths surpass morgue capacity

Coronavirus

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — As Lakeland Regional Health continues to treat more than 400 patients with COVID-19 every day, the hospital purchased a refrigerator cooler to expand its morgue capacity.

“Each surge during the pandemic has caused more deaths than normal at our Medical Center, and we take the appropriate steps to properly handle the bodies of the patients who pass away,” wrote Timothy Boynton, Lakeland Regional Health Vice President of Development and Chief Public Relations and Communications Officer, in a statement. “At this time during this current surge in cases, we have brought a portable refrigerated unit on campus to help gain additional capacity.”

The hospital is not disclosing details on its morgue capacity or where the new cooler is located.

“I know it’s bad, but it made me realize it’s worse than what I thought it was,” said Judy Wilson, whose family member passed away at the hospital Friday, unrelated to COVID-19.

Wilson’s family member received a call from the hospital a few days later.

They needed to pick up their loved one.

“Monday morning, they called to see how long she would be there because they were out of space,” said Wilson. “It was shocking, but what do you do? You just do the best you can and move on. You think of the people there that don’t have anybody to come get them.”

AdventHealth campuses in Polk County are also getting refrigerator coolers to increase their morgue capacities.

Ten Central Florida AdventHealth campuses have begun using the refrigerator units.

An email sent by AdventHealth’s Central Florida Division and obtained by NBC station WESH 2 News reads, “We believe this backup is due to a throughput slowdown at local funeral homes which is causing us to hold decedents for a longer period of time.”

There is a similar problem at AdventHealth Tampa.

Representatives from the health care system sent the following statement to 8 On Your Side:

“We have a robust emergency management program, which has allowed us to continue to care for our community during this surge with thorough planning and precautionary measures. With the spike of seriously ill patients in our hospitals, and the current strain and throughput issues with local funeral homes, it’s become necessary that we put resources in place to provide additional morgue capacity at AdventHealth Tampa.”

Still, AdventHealth Tampa states hospitalizations have decreased slightly.

Last week, AdventHealth’s Central Florida Division chief clinical officer expressed some optimism about the near future.

“For the last three days, we’ve seen numbers starting to fall,” Dr. Neil Finkler said. “I do believe we have not only plateaued, but that we have peaked, and we are looking at the beginning of what we believe to be a downward curve.”

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