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The Bend hospital's morgue is only large enough for three decedents; the mobile morgue can hold 24

In response to a fast-growing population and the COVID-19 pandemic, St. Charles Health System has acquired a 17-foot, fully refrigerated trailer to serve as a mobile morgue.

The Acela Truck pull-trailer was delivered to the Bend hospital in mid-September and is already in use.

"It has been a known gap in our emergency preparedness for a number of years," said Lara Simpson, St. Charles' supply chain director. "With this recent COVID-19 surge, we just finally hit that critical point where we needed to do something."

Built in the early 1970s, the Bend hospital's morgue is only large enough for three decedents. On at least three occasions recently, the number of decedents exceeded the morgue's capacity and were stored elsewhere in the hospital until local funeral homes were available to transport them, Simpson said. In one seven-day period alone, 19 people died, all but six from COVID-19.

"Sadly, this mobile morgue is a critical need right now," she said.

The mobile morgue - which is equipped to run on both electricity and a diesel generator - is large enough to hold 24 decedents. The health system purchased it for $82,000.

Next week, the Deschutes County Board of Commissioners is expected to discuss using ARPA funds to purchase the trailer from St. Charles. The County's Emergency Management program could use the trailer as a resource to assist in response to natural disasters.


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