Tri-State hospitals acknowledge use of ‘morgue trucks’ during winter surge

Hospitalizations are falling in Cincinnati and across Ohio, but deaths remain high.

Tri-State hospitals acknowledge use of ‘morgue trucks’ during winter surge
Cincinnati hospitals were forced to bring in morgue trucks during the winter COVID surge, according to multiple hospital spokespersons. (Source: KEYC)

CINCINNATI (FOX19) - UC Health and TriHealth spokespersons confirmed Tuesday that hospitals within their healthcare networks installed refrigerated morgue trucks for COVID fatalities in December.

One such truck has been at Bethesda North Hospital for around six weeks and remains in place, the TriHealth spokesperson says.

The TriHealth statement reads in part:

“TriHealth and other regional hospitals are experiencing a higher volume of critical COVID patients who are passing away in our facilities due to the increase in community infections. Coupled with funeral homes also reaching capacity, our morgues are consistently near or over capacity. To continue to provide essential and respectful end of life treatment to those in our care, we have reached the point where we must proactively prepare to expand morgue capacity for the entire system by temporarily using a refrigerated truck at our Bethesda North campus.”

FOX19 NOW asked a UC Health spokesperson about use of such trucks, to which the spokesperson replied, “Yes, UC Health added mortuary capacity in mid-December in response to the fall surge.”

The UC Health statement reads in full:

“At UC Health, our care teams have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic to provide advanced medical care to the most critically ill patients in our community. The fall surge in COVID-19 resulted in record-high numbers of hospitalized patients within our health system and across the community. In December, we added mortuary capacity to support our three inpatient locations as a precautionary measure.”

The spokesperson adds the rate of hospitalizations is declining in the region.

That notion is supported by data from the Ohio Department of Health.

Hospitalizations statewide are down more than 30 percent since the beginning of the year. Currently fewer than 3,000 Ohioans are hospitalized with COVID-19 for the first time since the ramp-up in late November.

The story is much the same in the Greater Cincinnati region, where current hospitalizations — 570 — are at their lowest level of the year.

More, the number of hospital beds used by COVID patients as a share of total hospital beds in the region is down nearly 20 percent over the last two weeks, while ICU bed usage is down 21 percent during the same timeframe.

But the relevant statistic is deaths, and deaths in Ohio, as expected given natural delays in the disease’s progression, remain high.

The state reports a three-week average of 77 new virus-related deaths per day, meaning 1,617, or 14.9 percent, of Ohio’s 10,856 virus-related deaths have occurred since Jan. 6.

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