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Ky. hospital partners with funeral home morgue to help with overcapacity issues

Published: Sep. 2, 2021 at 10:26 PM EDT
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HAZARD, Ky. (WKYT) - Just a week ago, Ephraim McDowell’s morgue was at more than double its capacity. Now, another regional hospital has reached its limit with deceased patients.

“Our hospitals, and we’ll talk about them in a minute, are already on the brink. This can’t continue. If we have this kind of exponential growth continue, we’re out of everything,” Gov. Andy Beshear said.

Among those on the brink is Appalachian Regional Healthcare’s hospital in Hazard. It’s nearly full with 72 patients being treated for COVID-19.

“It’s unprecedented times for us. I’ve never been at this capacity and had to reach out for help with our morgue,” said Tonya McCown, chief nursing director with Hazard ARH.

Wednesday night, Hazard ARH reached out to Wayne Bowling, the president of Engle-Bowling Funeral Home.

“In my recent trips to the Hazard ARH, it’s just a different look in each employees’ eyes. You can see the seriousness of what’s occurring,” Bowling said.

The funeral home has a walk-in cooled morgue capable of holding 20-25 bodies.

“They are just overloaded at this time. We’re willing to help them any way possible,” Bowling said.

It’s a grim but important partnership as COVID cases surge, because other hospitals have not had the help readily available.

Last week, Ephraim McDowell scrambled to rent a refrigerator truck after its morgue exceeded capacity. That would have been the next step for McCown and Hazard ARH.

“We would’ve had to reach out for mobile units and you know, that’s our last resort, we don’t want to do that,” McCown said.

Bowling hopes he won’t have to take anyone else in, but is ready to extend a helping hand during these difficult times.

“We just have to pull together as a community and do what we need to do to help our brothers and sisters out,” Bowling said.

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