Yavapai County Supervisors approve emergency purchase of mobile morgue to deal with upsurge in COVID deaths

Yavapai County seal. (Courier file photo)

Yavapai County seal. (Courier file photo)

In a move that is being driven by a surge in COVID-19-related deaths, Yavapai County approved an emergency purchase this week that will provide 20 more morgue spaces.

During a special meeting in Cottonwood on Wednesday, Dec. 15, the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a request by the Yavapai County Community Health Services/Medical Examiner’s Office to spend up to $65,000 to buy and hook up a 16-foot refrigerated mobile morgue/cadaver trailer.

Community Health Services Director Leslie Horton told the board that the need for more morgue space has come up from time to time in the past, “but never quite as urgent as we’re experiencing right now.”

Horton said the need stems from the increased number of COVID-related deaths. “We’ve had many, many deaths recently due to COVID-19,” she said. (See related story.)

Although the county saw a similar situation during last year’s COVID surge, Horton said, “We were able to weather the winter and get through that increase in capacity.” But currently, she said, “Every part of the system that is dealing with death in our community is hitting a point of maximum capacity.”

Horton suggested moving quickly on the purchase because of the competitive bidding process. She noted that the company that was identified as having the best-quality item for the price had two trailers remaining this past week.

“If we don’t order one of those now, we’ll have to wait another several months in order to order one of these,” Horton said. She added that the purchase of the mobile morgue was an allowable cost under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds that the county has received from the federal government.

The purchase will allow the county to “hold an additional 20 bodies until they can move on to the funeral homes,” Horton said.

Board Chairman Craig Brown noted that the county had looked at a similar purchase under a different funding source this past spring, but that purchase had not worked out. “Therefore, that’s why we’re moving forward at this time, since we’re having an upsurge of deaths taking place as a result of COVID-19,” he said.

While the previous proposal was for a temporary-use trailer, Horton said, “This one, we are encouraged that we will be able to hold onto it as well.”

While noting that “Hopefully, someday we’re not dealing with COVID-19,” Horton said, “But if we did have a natural disaster or any other reason that we had an increase in capacity past this pandemic as well, we’ll be able to utilize this trailer. It has become a need in other times where we’ve had to rely on other agencies as we’ve reached capacity.”

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