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Dispute About Body Transports Discussed in County Committee Meeting

Daniel Prince

Communication will be key in coming up with policies and procedures

The Union County Council Committee on Public Health and Social Services met with Union County Coroner William Holcombe, Deputy Coroner John Fallaw, and EMS Director Eric Harold to discuss policies and procedures regarding the transporting of dead bodies and how to better utilize EMS resources. Holcombe stated that in his 32 years as coroner, he has never had a problem with EMS transporting bodies. He said some recent issues have come into play since bringing the Rescue Squad on board to transport bodies to autopsies. A wreck about four months ago while the Rescue Squad was coming back from transporting a body for autopsy put that truck out of service for more than three months. It has since come back into service. Another truck recently had a maintenance issue that took it out of service. He said he thought it was still out of service, but Dr. John Flood informed him the repairs had been made and it is back in service. Holcombe noted that the Rescue Squad needs to notify his office when these vehicles come back into service. He noted that while the rescue squad had the truck out of service, he did have to rely on EMS more. He noted one instance when he had to call an EMS vehicle back to an area to transport a body after SLED had wrapped up their investigation of a scene, and he said one of the people in the vehicle was belligerent that he had called them back to the scene and wanted to know why Holcombe hadn’t called the rescue squad. This was during the time that the vehicle was out of service, and Holcombe said he was not going to have the body transported in a pickup truck out of respect for the deceased.

EMS Director Eric Harold stated that the call volume continues to increase for both his office and the coroner’s office. In his recent report to council, Harold noted that there have been 2811 calls this year so far, which is 193 more than the previous year at this time. He said along with the call volume increases, sometimes he is short-staffed, which puts additional strain on resources, though he noted that EMS will be fully staffed in August, something that few departments can claim across the state. He said that he can’t afford to have vehicles tied up at a scene and waiting for an extended period for transporting a body.
Holcombe stated he always talks to Medic Six when he arrives on a scene, and if call volume is heavy and ambulances are needed elsewhere, he is informed of that and asked to make other arrangements for transports, which he said he does. He said there have been times that EMS has volunteered to transport a body to the morgue or other places when they are going by the hospital anyway. Dr. Flood stated he didn’t think that was appropriate, and that in effect, EMS was taking itself out of service by staying on scenes at times and volunteering for such transports.

Flood stated he would like to see funeral homes be responsible for their own transporting of bodies, which Holcombe said was not an issue and that the funeral homes don’t have a problem doing that. Flood also said he would like for EMS trucks to be released from scenes where law enforcement investigations and coroner’s office investigations have to be done and call them back when the body is finally ready for transport. He also stated that getting a transport van for the coroner’s office would be beneficial. Holcombe suggested that the rescue squad get a one-person stretcher so that two of their volunteers not have to be tied up when they transport bodies for autopsy.

Flood stated numerous times that everyone involved needs to be on the same page when it comes to these transports and to communicate with one another when issues arise. He stated that the coroner, the EMS director, and the Rescue Squad chief need to all sit down and come up with a set of policies and procedures governing what to do at death scenes and to try and cover some of the contingencies that may come up if a vehicle is out of service, if call volume is heavy, and things like that. Ben Ivey said he would sit in on the meeting representing County Council, so that they would be in the loop, as well.

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