Hamilton County expanding morgue to address demand

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NOBLESVILLE, Ind. - An expanded morgue will soon eliminate creative ways to keep the deceased properly stored. Hamilton County and Riverview Health are funding a space to hold as many as 20 people at Riverview's main hospital.

According to Hamilton County Coroner, John Chalfin, the addition is very much needed.

“We combined the increase needs from the hospital as well as the coroner’s office," he said. "Doing a combination facility at Riverview Hospital so it serves both needs and we aren’t building two separate facilities.”

Chalfin said it was the most efficient, and cost-saving, way to expand. It will cost $1,067,539 to bring in the additional equipment for the space. Riverview will cover $500,000 of the cost, with the county covering the rest.

Chalfin said he was pleased with the work of the county council and county commissioners, along with Riverview Health CEO, Seth Warren, in making the expansion happen.

The addition is expected to be in place this coming summer.

The coroner's office has access to six spaces for a body right now, and then can rely on area funeral homes from time to time. One has been occupied since the start of the year as a man with ties to Central America died on New Year's Eve and hasn't been taken by family, yet.

“We have to start looking for alternatives," said Chalfin.

However, there have been times that the body of a recently deceased person had to be placed in a refrigerated trailer the county's health department owns.

“We’ve had to shuffle people back and forth," Chalfin said. "Some times, we've asked families to try and get their arrangements sooner.”

When the morgue was first put in, the county's population was under 150,000 people. More than 300,000 people live there today.

"In 1978, there were 48 total deaths in the county," said Chalfin. "Last year, we just had 378 coroner’s cases.”

A coroner typically doesn't handle every death, but will be called in to handle homicides, drug-related deaths and other suspicious deaths.

Chalfin said not only has the county grown, but it's also brought in an older population, too.

He said 10 to 15 years ago, there were roughly a dozen nursing homes and other retirement communities in the county. Today that number is at nearly 50.

“Anywhere you look in the county, you can see those facilities going in," Chaflin said. “With the aging population, they are closer to their end of life cycle. That will give an increase frequency.”

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