Hamilton County opened its new morgue Sept. 10 at Riverview Health in Noblesville. It include 20 beds, including two for homicide victims. The new facility is roughly four times the size of the old morgue, which had only two beds.
On average, seven bodies occupy the morgue. As a result, funeral homes often assisted in storing bodies before the new facility opened.
The new morgue has two rooms – a body cooler and autopsy suite. There are 18 beds in the cooler. The homicide victim beds are in the autopsy suite. This purpose is to limit the chain of custody to coroner personnel and hospital security. The original morgue had a two-person cooler for homicide victims locked by a key, but the coolers weren’t stored in a separate room.
The new facility cost just above $1 million. Hamilton County Commissioners contributed approximately half of the funding.
Other additions to the new morgue include a separate viewing area for families to identify the deceased through a window. Stainless steel accents are covered to provide a less cold feel to the process. Previously, families would identify the person in the one-room morgue. The new viewing area will be used as an exam room for the day clinic, when the viewing window will be covered.
“I’ve told my office and the guys that work for me that we are public servants and we want to serve the people in this community with dignity,” county Coroner John Chalfin said. “We want to ensure the family has a softer blow.”
The viewing room will limit situations where family members may smell an unpleasant odor because a wall and window separate the family and the deceased.
“We have patients that are burned or decayed, and you don’t want that to be the last thing family members remember,” Chalfin said.
Hamilton County Commissioner Christine Altman said the viewing room is sensitive to family members’ emotions.
“It takes into account that it is a very difficult process for the family to identify (a loved one), and (the viewing room) is very sensitive to that problem,” Altman said.
The viewing room also allows family members of different faiths to observe their traditions.
“There are different customs when it comes to death,” Chalfin said. “We’ve done our best to accommodate those different customs and serve the best of the county.”
A death becomes a coroner’s case if it is an automobile accident, suspicious deaths, an act of violence such as a homicide or a suicide, a drug overdose or an unattended death.
“We speak for the dead and try to smooth over that transition from life to death,” Chalfin said.
The Hamilton County Coroner’s Office is expected to handle more than 475 deaths this year.