Central Florida hospitals add portable morgues to handle COVID-19 deaths

Lakeland Regional Health, like many other Tampa Bay area hospitals, is bringing in mobile coolers because their morgues are near or at capacity due to COVID-19.

Judy Wilson learned in a very personal way that recently. One of her relatives got a call from Lakeland Regional. The caller asked to have Wilson’s loved one, who died of another illness, to be moved early because of the space problem.

"They said, ‘When are you going to come get her because we because we don’t have any space,’" Wilson recalled.

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Right now, there are more than 400 people in Lakeland Regional Health with COVID-19; nearly 60 of them are on ventilators.

In a written statement, a hospital spokesman said, "Each surge during the pandemic has caused more deaths than normal at our medical center. And we take the appropriate steps to properly handle the bodies of the patients who pass away. At this time during this current surge in cases, we have brought a portable refrigerated unit on campus to help to gain additional capacity."


The situation extends far beyond Lakeland Regional.

Advent Health says it has 10 portable coolers at its facilities in Polk, Osceola, Orange, Seminole and Volusia counties. Sarasota Memorial has done the same thing.

"It is sad, it is sad," commented Wilson. "I know it’s bad, but it made me realize, it is worse than what I thought it was."

There are so many deaths from the virus, funeral homes are backed up as well, which is causing a bottleneck.

"I am in the process myself of looking for a refrigeration truck," said T.J. Cohen, a funeral director in Tampa.

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