The reason for the PMH morgue backlog

Dear Editor,

Health Minister Renward Wells’ claim that the Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) morgue is overflowing with dead bodies isn’t a unique situation for The Bahamas.

The morgue at PMH has an excess of over 150 bodies in storage, well beyond its maximum capacity of 66 bodies, health officials said yesterday.

This has the potential of morphing into a dangerous health hazard for PMH staff members.

In an April 30 New York Times article, it was stated that officials at Leo F. Kearns Funeral Home in Queens, New York, resorted to storing 36 human remains in a 40-foot refrigerated trailer, due to them encountering the same problems like the PHM, which is eerily similar to what transpired in Abaco with respect to the 55 Hurricane Dorian victims being kept in a refrigerator container.

Up to April, the COVID-19 pandemic had claimed 18,000 lives in New York, at an alarming rate of 800 per day.

One official stated to the New York Times that COVID-19 was the worst mass casualty to hit New York since the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918.

In the same article, it was claimed dozens of decomposing bodies were stashed in two vehicles at a funeral home in Brooklyn, as hospital morgues, cemeteries, funeral homes and crematories had all run out of space.

Moreover, cemetery officials had begun burying unclaimed bodies after a two-week period in a potter’s field in the Bronx on Hart Island.

In another article, published just one day prior to the aforementioned New York Times article, ProPublica said that millions of unemployed Americans from 30 states and territories were awaiting disaster relief funding via the Federal Emergency Management Agency in order to assist in burying their loved ones who had succumbed to COVID-19.

What the ProPublica and New York Times articles suggest is that Americans are experiencing the very same issue that Bahamians are experiencing: they simply cannot afford to bury their dead loved ones, due to the COVID-19 economic recession. Hence the backlog of dead bodies at Princess Margaret and Rand Memorial hospitals. Wells should know this.

An average Bahamian funeral costs about $6,000.

Even with the current emergency orders requirements put in place by the competent authority, with a maximum of 10 mourners in attendance at the gravesite, not including the minister, a funeral could still run you into about $3,000.

The cheaper option would be cremation. But being raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition, most Bahamians are opposed to cremation, as it is a pagan and Hindu practice, which the early Christian church rightly interpreted as a denial of the bodily resurrection.

With tens of thousands of Bahamians unemployed, most people simply do not have $6,000 sitting in their bank accounts to pay for a funeral.

Even in normal circumstances, 75 percent of working Bahamians don’t even have $1,000 in savings.

With no income, these people have no option available, other than to keep their loved ones at PMH. And whatever financial assistance they receive from the National Insurance Board is used to buy food and pay utilities, mortgage and rent.

Their unwillingness to collect the remains of their loved ones isn’t necessarily negligence. It has to do with their inability to give their loved ones a proper Christian burial.

Hence, the government morgue has become, for all intents and purposes, their storage facility.

I think we are reaching the crucial stage in which the Free National Movement (FNM) administration and grieving families would just have to come to an amicable agreement to do what officials have done in the Bronx, in order to make room for others who will pass away.

These are unusual times. Bahamians need to be reasonable with the Minnis administration.

Based on the current trend, with death having a batting average of 1,000, I foresee the government having to perform another mass burial, as it did in Abaco in May with the 55 Hurricane Dorian victims.

Something has to give, otherwise the government would resort to storing dead bodies in refrigerator containers.

In the event this happens, I hope the Bahamian people would resist the urge to play political football, as this government is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Kevin Evans

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