BALTIMORE — A spike in murders, COVID-19 deaths and overdoses resulted in a crisis at Maryland’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, according to a legislator trying to hold state health officials accountable. Maryland’s Health Department says the remains of at least 200 people are currently waiting for autopsies.
Del. Kirill Reznik (D-Montgomery County) reports that bodies are now being stored on an emergency basis in refrigerated truck trailers in a rented Baltimore loading dock and garage on Greene Street while federal disaster workers are being sent to help.
Procurement documents submitted to the Maryland Board of Public works, which must approve the emergency rental space, confirm Reznik's statement. The garage is being rented for $30,000 per month, according to the documents.
Mortuary vehicles were seen coming and going at the building Monday.
Heartbroken families say they are waiting weeks for the release of their loved ones remains, which require autopsies from the Medical Examiner.
One mother, who did not want to be identified, shared the pain of the delay after the death of her daughter.
“I'm outraged that they would be keeping bodies anywhere other than the coroner's office," she said. "I have no idea where she was kept. I didn't know. I still don't know, and I don't want to."
The U.S. National Disaster Medical System is sending at least one worker to Maryland after the state appealed to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for help, according to Reznik.
"Until a few weeks ago, there were bodies being piled up in the hallways," Reznik said, citing complaints from unions representing employees at the Medical Examiner's office. "It's sad. Not only are we delaying potential criminal investigations, not only are we delaying the ability of families to have closure for their loved ones who have passed, there are circumstances where there are religious rights in many cases. And here we are delaying those people to properly bury their loved ones by days and weeks."
While Reznik agreed that a spike in crime, overdoses and COVID deaths amplified the crisis, he blames Maryland Health Department authorities for failing to hire enough pathologists and medical examiners to replace those who have left since 2019.
"People who go into the medical field want to heal the living, not work with the dead," Reznik said. "And so finding those medical students and those doctors who want to engage in this specialty is is difficult.”
State documents show that Maryland health authorities have increased salaries to more than $370,000 to try and recruit more pathologists willing to do the work.