PMB mortuary space crisis

2008-03-23 00:00

IN a desperate attempt to alleviate the problems besetting Pietermaritzburg’s Alexandra Road state mortuary, the KZN Health Department has moved some of the bodies to private mortuaries around the city, while a new R30-million facility is being built.

The Alexandra Road mortuary has faced a litany of problems ranging from limited storage area to malfunctioning equipment.

A mortician, who preferred to remain anonymous, told The Witness that about a third of the fridges at the mortuary are currently broken.

This, he adds, is the cause of some of the bodies decomposing, which gives rise to the unbearable stench that hovers over the mortuary and its surroundings.

“Our problems are not over yet: this morning we had to put yet another body in a fridge that is not working. We have to wait until another body is claimed and removed before this one can be put in a refrigerated area,” he told The Witness.

In some cases, he added, bodies end up on the floor at the morgue’s cold room.

“While we appreciate that some of the bodies have been taken to private mortuaries, this is clearly not enough,” he said.

The mortician said moving bodies to different morgues has created confusion for bereaved families who want to identify their relatives, as they are sometimes sent from one mortuary to another. This has also led to more paperwork for overworked mortuary staff.

Dr Yoliswa Mbele, acting head of the Health Department, which runs state mortuaries, told the legislature’s finance portfolio committee that outsourcing some of the mortuary’s functions is a temporary measure pending the completion of a new forensic mortuary.

The Health Department has said that the Alexandra Road mortuary buildings are so old that they cannot be refurbished.

Mbele said the construction of the new super-size, R30-million forensic mortuary in the Fort Napier Hospital precinct is expected to begin next month. However, while the process will be fast-tracked, it could still take more than a year before the construction is completed.

“We have established that it is easier and quicker to build with steel. This process takes about a year to 15 months at most. If we were to build with bricks and mortar, it would have come to about four years,” she said.

IFP MPL Lionel Mtshali said that while he appreciates that plans are afoot for relocation, the Alexandra Road facility should be closed down.

“The critical question is: Why are services being rendered at a facility the conditions of which are unacceptable? Some contingency should have been made even to close down that [Alexandra Road] facility.”

ANC MPL Yusuf Bhamjee warned that closing down the mortuary before the completion of the new one “will put the people of Pietermaritzburg at an even greater disservice”.

The committee resolved that the health portfolio committee should monitor the situation, visit mortuaries and then report to the finance committee on progress.

Mbele said that there are plans for the construction of a mortuary in Phoenix. The department said it is confident that it “will be able to spend or commit substantially all the funds” set aside by the end of March.

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