Saturday, September 27, 2003

Not a Nice Place to Die AND I Wouldn't Want To Work There

Even the best morgues are probably not the nicest places. But the D.C. Morgue? Yech!
Behind the walls of the District's morgue, even death is put on hold.

Unclaimed bodies, awaiting public burial, have been decomposing on fiberglass trays in refrigerated storage rooms, some for up to three years. The cause and manner of death for roughly 400 people who have died since 1999 are "pending," the details of their demise left unresolved. Paper case files -- the morgue's records are not computerized -- are stored in unlocked rooms where workers, visitors and funeral directors wander freely.

In the unventilated laboratory where tissue samples are examined, toxic chemicals and formaldehyde were left out in the open, creating fumes so noxious that city health inspectors in June called them "immediately dangerous to life and health."

Unidentified skeletal remains lie in a cardboard box, a grim hand-me-down from the previous physicians who headed the office -- an agency that until the early 1980s was one of the best in the country, renowned for its research into gunshot deaths and its superb training of medical residents.