Rotting bodies at Port of Spain mortuary
Anna Ramdass firstname.lastname@example.org
There is a big unbearable stink at the mortuary of Port of Spain General Hospital.
There are currently three bodies in a decomposed state which have contaminated the entire chiller area, creating a scent so foul it would cause anyone to vomit.
The Express can confirm this after visiting the morgue on Saturday.
On August 17, the refrigeration system of the chiller room where the bodies are kept malfunctioned, causing the bodies to start rotting. The decomposed bodies were moved to an adjoining chiller room.
To date, three bodies are unclaimed (two men and one woman).
All new bodies have to be placed in this chiller where the three decomposed bodies are and which have contaminated the entire area.
More than a week has passed and nothing has been done to remove the decomposed bodies, nor ensure the morgue is a place fit for working.
The Express understands the North West Regional Health Authority (NWRHA) board stopped a decision to treat with the situation as an emergency intervention.
Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan, when contacted by the Express, voiced surprise that the problem was not yet solved.
“I had asked that the mortuary be repaired as an emergency measure utilising possibly pre-qualified contracts and hospital in-house staff. I thought the repair was happening, I am extremely surprised that it has not been done as an emergency measure. It’s sad what has occurred and I hope to have it done as fast as possible,” said Khan.
“I know there have been problems with the project management unit and I hope they see this is an emergency,” he added.
Khan said he was given assurances by NWRHA management that the mortuary would be fixed, as the Funeral Association complained about the morgue’s deplorable conditions and there was no proper viewing or mourning area for relatives to see the deceased.
Khan, a medical doctor, said he himself could not understand how mortuary staff were being forced to work under such stench and conditions.
Sources told the Express that after the refrigeration system malfunctioned, on August 19 a number of officials visited the morgue and saw first-hand the unbearable state of affairs. Those on the site visit included the NWRHA chief executive officer (CEO), chief operational officer (COO), acting hospital administrator and service manager, among others.
The Express understands the team could not stomach the scent of the morgue’s environs and they were unable to go inside the chiller area where the decomposed and other bodies were kept. “They realised it was a very bad situation, when relatives come to the mortuary to view their deceased there isn’t a viewing area for them, they have to go inside that chill room where all the other bodies are and where there is that stink smell,” said a source.
After the visit last Monday, three days later, on Thursday, instructions were given that the morgue area be cleared to facilitate repairs and improvement works. Works were promised to be started at 6 a.m. the next day. Nothing happened.
Sources said it was agreed that emergency works would be undertaken, which would cost $50,000 to $60,000 and do not require board approval. However, this was put to a stop as the board intervened, saying it was not an emergency situation and overall work, which could run into hundreds of thousands of dollars, was the approach to be taken.
“We are at a loss as to what happened. Meanwhile, the entire place is stink and staff have to work under these conditions,” said a source.
More than a week has passed and nothing has been done.
The three unclaimed decomposed bodies have been lying at the morgue since July.
The Express understands that in order for the hospital to remove the bodies, a long bureaucratic process has to be undertaken, whereby advertisements have to be placed in the media calling on the public to come and identify and claim the bodies.
This could take as much as a month to do.
Therefore if vagrants die and are sent to the morgue, their bodies could remain there for weeks and are disposed of only after the process takes place and no one claims their bodies.
When the Express visited the morgue on Saturday, a technician was on-site and said the refrigeration system was 75 per cent functioning and there was no guarantee it would not malfunction again.
The chiller room which malfunctioned was empty.
The adjoining chiller room had around half a dozen bodies and the stench permeated the entire area.
Sources told the Express there was a process in place years ago, where a team of engineers led by a hospital engineer would regularly check the morgue’s refrigeration system, but this was discontinued under the former administration, as it was deemed to be too costly.
“They put all kinds of people who don’t have any real skill or qualifications for the job and give them names like project managers when the services and standards have not been maintained,” said a source.
The source added that the current project management unit at the hospital was literally “a waste of time” and nothing was getting done.
Not only is the refrigeration system at the morgue not up to standard, the area itself is dilapidated and deplorable.
Located at the southern area of Port of Spain General, one first has to drive through a road filled with potholes surrounded by derelict structures to get to the morgue.
Millions was spent under the former administration in upgrade works which could not be seen.
A viewing/mourning room just outside the chiller room is in a disgusting state, with tiles fallen off the walls, the floors are filthy and old equipment and garbage cluttered in corners.
Outside the morgue area are a number of broken and old gurneys. The walls are filthy and the conditions of the morgue were simply inhumane.
In addition, the conditions of the histology department and lab were unsanitary and even hazardous to employees there.
Equipment and computers have to be covered with sheets as the roof is infested with asbestos and has large gaping holes. The windows are old and broken, there is no air-conditioning or a proper ventilation system.
“We were told that no works could be done immediately because they can’t touch it, as it have asbestos in the roof. But the termite droppings which are asbestos-infested are okay for the people who have to work there,” said a source.
The Express learned that head of the department, pathologist Dr Shaheeba Barrow, wrote numerous letters practically pleading for immediate intervention to improve the lab and morgue’s conditions.
Contacted by phone, Barrow confirmed to the Express that there were three decomposed bodies currently at the morgue creating a stench.
“I am well within my professional capacity to shut down any aspects of operation that I deem unsuitable for working. Nobody can challenge me on that, but I will not because the public and relatives of deceased will suffer. “I am hoping the people in North West treat this matter with urgency,” said Barrow.
Barrow refused to comment further when pressed with questions.