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Melanie Garthwaite, MS/FM ’17 
PCOM Heroes of the Front Line


April 28, 2020

Supervisor, State of New Jersey Temporary Morgue Facility, Monmouth County, New Jersey

Melanie Garthwaite, MS/FM ’17“As of early May, New Jersey’s COVID-19 death toll exceeded 7,800. The number of deaths at hospitals, nursing homes and funeral homes far exceeded their storage capacity, so the state opened a second temporary morgue facility in Monmouth County (Central New Jersey). The facility has a capacity for 1,400 bodies. So far, we’ve accepted 190 people, with 100 still here. We are working in conjunction with the New Jersey National Guard and the New Jersey State Police. … At the Southern Regional Medical Examiner’s Office where I work under normal circumstances, our case volume hasn’t gone up that much since South Jersey has not yet been as severely impacted as densely-populated North Jersey. Many COVID-19 cases do not fall under the jurisdiction of the medical examiner. But if someone is found dead in his/her home, and we don’t know why he/she passed away, the case is accepted by the Medical Examiner’s Office. … We don’t do the transport to the temporary morgue sites. One of the sobering realities is how the remains arrive—in UHaul trucks from hospitals, refrigerated trailers, mini-vans, Suburban SUVs. … In my line of work, we don’t get to save people. But I believe we are on the front lines, aiding the overwhelmed mortuary services sector. There’s such a backlog with cremations and burials. In some places, cremations are being scheduled for June or July. … We don’t give people deadlines. Some funeral homes store bodies here for a couple of days. Others can take a couple of weeks or a month before they can be cremated. There are quite a few cases from nursing homes who have no next-of-kin. We are working with the State Police to identify next-of-kin so the people can be finally put to rest. I’ve spoken to families from all over the world, people who are trying to figure out where their loved one is. … We’re trying to keep our spirits up. We listen to music. We are working in a beautiful setting, surrounded by blooming gardens. What a drastic difference: a warm greenhouse and a cold refrigerator. … One of the hardest aspects for the families is the lack of human interaction when their loved one passes away. When somebody dies under normal circumstances, most families have a funeral, a memorial, some kind of celebration of life. Friends and loved ones surround those who are mourning. They comfort through hugs and embraces. … We’re scheduled to close on July 1, but that will depend on how things evolve. We need to be cognizant of the possibility of a second wave of the virus after lockdowns lift.”

As told to David McKay Wilson
April 29, 2020

About Digest Magazine

Digest, the magazine for alumni and friends of Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, is published by the Office of Marketing and Communications. The magazine reports on osteopathic and other professional trends of interest to alumni of the College’s Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) and graduate programs at PCOM, PCOM Georgia and PCOM South Georgia.

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