Coroner: York County's new morgue could be ready for use by end of April

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

The new morgue at the York County Coroner's Office could be operational by the end of April, Coroner Pam Gay said recently.

The $1.3 million morgue, which has been under construction at York County Prison since August, will be able to hold up to 33 bodies, a much-needed expansion from the current space York County shares with WellSpan York Hospital.

"The hospital morgue can house eight or nine at the most, for a county of 450,000 people," Gay said. "That's been a problem for a couple years, but it escalated during COVID."

York County Coroner Pam Gay talks about a planned morgue in a former ICE detention dormitory at the relocated coroner's office at the York County Prison Complex Wednesday, July 15, 2020. The morgue is slated for completion in mid-2121. Bill Kalina photo

Gay stressed that she and her staff are grateful to York Hospital for allowing the coroner's office to use the hospital's morgue, free of charge, but she's been sounding the alarm over the need for the county to have its own space for several years.

Amid the pandemic, the need for more space has became even clearer.

During the most recent surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths in December and January, the hospital morgue was often at capacity for several days, and sometimes weeks, in a row, Gay said.

As of Monday, more than 700 people in York County had died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

On top of the COVID-19 deaths, York County has also been experiencing a record number of drug overdose deaths.

More:York County had a record number of overdose deaths in 2020

Gay said she's recorded 15 to 20 overdose deaths every month since February 2020. There were a total of 201 confirmed drug-related deaths in York County last year, with four cases still pending, she said.

Of the 201 confirmed drug deaths, 183 were attributed to opioids, and nearly all of the opioid deaths were confirmed to be caused by heroin or fentanyl, the coroner said.

Signs at the entrances of the WellSpan York Hospital complex highlight the continued issues with the COVID-19 pandemic, Wednesday, November 11, 2020.
John A. Pavoncello photo

"The hospital has been working with us around the clock, literally, as well as the funeral homes," Gay said.

Before COVID-19, Gay said she planned to have a big kickoff event to celebrate the morgue becoming operational, but because of the virus, there will likely be a virtual event instead.

Before starting construction of the morgue, the county built a new coroner's office at York County Prison in a vacant dormitory the prison had used to house detainees for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The new morgue is attached to the coroner's office, which opened in July.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that York County Coroner Pam Gay said that during the most recent COVID-19 surge, the morgue at York Hospital sometimes remained at capacity for days or weeks at a time.

More:York County coroner: COVID-19 death surge overwhelming morgue

More:Construction to begin on new York County morgue