Open-Door Morgue Leaves Bodies Up For Grabs

September 23, 2009
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AUSTRALIA – SECURITY at one of Sydney’s biggest hospitals is so lax that anyone can walk into the morgue and claim a body without showing identification, prompting fears that corpses could be wrongly removed or defiled.

Undertakers have blasted Royal North Shore Hospital for its cavalier attitude to security, saying it showed management had ”integrity and moral issues”.

The hospital was the only one in Sydney where it was possible for members of the public to enter the mortuary’s freezer, which stores up to 10 bodies, and ”help themselves”, the secretary of the Funeral Industry Association, Graham Stewart, said yesterday.

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He said undertakers were in fear that the wrong body could be buried or cremated before hospital staff had checked the paperwork, a particular concern for Jews or Muslims, who must usually be buried within 24 hours of death, or on days when two people with the same surname were in the morgue.

”It’s been going on for years and it’s appalling, but the health department told us not to complain to the hospital because they could make things worse for us,” Mr Stewart said.

At other hospitals, undertakers were required to submit detailed paperwork at the medical records office before being escorted to the mortuary by a porter and monitored by a morgue attendant while they removed the body.

”Not at Royal North Shore,” the proprietor of Mannings Funerals, John Manning, said yesterday.

”Anyone can walk in there, pick up a body without any paperwork and nobody would be any the wiser.”

The morgue, which can be entered via an unlocked door off the emergency department car park, is staffed by an attendant but many undertakers contacted by the Herald said they regularly arrived to find it empty or the attendant busy in an adjacent office.

One, who did not want to be named, said he visited the morgue recently while the attendant was eating lunch at a desk around the corner from the freezer. A buzzer attached to the door heralded his arrival, but the attendant did not acknowledge it, allowing the undertaker to enter the freezer, remove a body and leave without being sighted or have his paperwork checked.

”I was aghast ? at the ease with which we were able to do this. There are no locked doors, no checks, no security cameras. It is my opinion that a body could easily be stolen and I’m surprised that it hasn’t happened already.”

Mr Stewart said the situation was unacceptable.

”Families have a right to feel that every check and balance is in place for their loved ones. There are no shortcuts. This hospital has a real issue with integrity and morals.”

The president of the Funeral Directors’ Association of NSW, Ken Chapman, said he did not believe a lack of security was normal practice at Royal North Shore but agreed it was possible a body could be removed and buried before the relevant paperwork was processed.

”That would be a very big concern,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the hospital said security had been reviewed five months ago, but there had been no complaints about access to the mortuary.

However, she said new locks would be fitted this week to ensure the mortuary doors locked automatically in response to the Herald’s inquiries.

”The people in the morgue are still very much patients of this hospital and we should be looking after them properly,” she said.

”We can all cut corners but the staff have now been reminded that it’s important to stick to the rules – and we do want to emphasise that nothing untoward has been reported to us.”

Source: smh.com.au

Photo By: Steven Siewert

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