KHMH, A Great Place To Live If You're Dead
When we report on Belize's high murder rate, and high mortality rate for traffic accidents - apart from the initial trauma, there's another side to that story, and it's the issue of where all the dead are stored.
Truth is, the morgue at the KHMH has been functioning at a level far above which it was originally designed for - and on some deadly weekends - storing all the dead can become problematic.
But lately the KHMH administration has been making significant changes in that area of the hospital. We found out more today:
Robin Schaffer Reporting
Many would agree that the morgue at the KHMH has been functioning at a level far above which it was originally designed for - especially with the upsurge in fatal accidents and murders in the past years.
But lately they are some significant changes being done to that particular area of the hospital.
Today the media were all invited to tour a roomy, refurbished and gleaming new morgue.
One of the most important new features is the new storage Unit with a capacity of individual storage of up to 12 bodies. While the refitted original storage unit -which will now be used for police cases only -has a capacity to hold nine bodies.
There is also a new ramp canopy, a comfortable waiting area for visitors, renovations of the viewing room, the entrance way and the autopsy room - which now has a new stainless steel, locally manufactured autopsy table.
Dr. Hugh Sanchez - Ministry of Health
"It has long been overdue, and as the prime user of the facility, I am impressed. When I compare it with Jamaica, I think that we have exceeded it by far. In fact, the storage area is air-conditioned. That's a big plus, so I want to say thanks to the administration for upgrading our facility, and you will agree that it looks nice,"
Dr. Francis Gary Longsworth - CEO, KHMH
"I think that in order to appreciate what we've done, you'd probably have to see before and after pictures. It's completely changed from what existed before. Our storage capacity has been increased from 9 bodies to 21 bodies, and that's the major change. Apart from that, we've opened out the storage area. We've improved the autopsy room, making it bigger. We have re-equip the autopsy room with new sinks, and a new table. Everything is air-conditioned throughout, and this is for preservation of the bodies, as well as comfort of the people who have to work here. The entire place has gotten a facelift. Areas that were not in use before are now in use, for instance, the viewing area. This had not been in use for years, and so people had to traffic in an out to view bodies in this area or over there. Now, we have put it back into use. There was not a waiting room for visitors. We have constructed it, basically, made it into a waiting area. We have put an office for our morgue technician to do his documentation and to interact with the public. We have covered a ramp and put a privacy screen, a trellis for privacy from the road. I used to be appalled when I would see families grieving out in the hot sun, and everybody staring at them from the road. You know; interviews used to take place through the fence and that kind of thing. We've changed all of that."
The funds that were used to refurbish the morgue came from the hospital's annual budget and from revenue collection.
Dr. Francis Gary Longsworth
"Conservatively, we have spent $150,000 BZ on this project. The new unit alone is approximately $100,000. It's made from the finest grade steel. It was chosen for the material for the amenities - the individual storage - and also for ease of maintenance. The cooling unit is on the roof of the unit, and you can detach it, remove it for servicing, and replace it without having access the unit itself. So all of those things were factored in when we chose that unit."
There will be some adjustments to the fees charged for the morgue's use.
Dr. Francis Gary Longsworth
"We are going to go with routine use of body bags, single-use body bags for all bodies. This is both for infection control within the hospital and from outside. We'll have restrictions concerning unauthorized photography because we've received reports of unauthoritized pictures out in the public domain, which we have nothing to do with, but again, we take the blame when these things happen. There will actually be a physical barrier placed at this entrance here so that people without authority cannot get into that area. In terms of the increase in fees, I consider them quite acceptable. Initially, we've made a separation between public cases and private cases. Public cases are those that come to us from within our hospital, from the regional hospitals, from the police, and so on. If the family takes a contract with a private undertaker, it becomes a private case. Once it becomes a private case, we have asked the undertakers to please separate your fees from our fees. So, we'll have a separation of fees so that people will understand clearly what the hospital's charges are vs what the undertaker's charges are. The public fees used to be $25 for the first 3 days, and $50 per day after. We are now standardizing that at $50 per day to cover the increased utility costs and the use of body bags. That's for the public cases. For the private cases, it used to be $50 a day from day 1, it's going to $75 a day, and there is a handling and storage fee that used to be $50, one payment for the entire time that you are here. That is now going to $100. As I said when I spoke earlier, we know that it costs a lot to bury the dead, but we don't consider these fees unreasonable, given the standards that we're trying to attain and maintain."
The new storage unit cost of 49,000 US dollars - that has a capacity for 12 bodies, and the old refitted unit can hold nine bodies.