East Avenue Medical Center could need mortuary freezer, as unclaimed bodies increase

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 11 2020 07:29 PM | Updated as of Apr 12 2020 11:22 AM

MANILA — The East Avenue Medical Center (EAMC) has denied reports that it is running out of body bags or it has been told to stop counting COVID-19 fatalities.

But the hospital does need mortuary freezers after more bodies of patients under investigation for COVID-19 remain unclaimed in the morgue.

“Past few days starting this week, nag-pile up ang ating cadavers, umaabot ng 15 to 20 ang ating cadavers,” Dr. Dennis Ordoña, EAMC spokesperson, told ABS-CBN News in a phone interview on Saturday.

(Past few days starting this week, the cadavers started piling up. There were 15 to 20 cadavers.)

“’Yung capacity ng morgue is hanggang 5 lang,” he added.

(The capacity of the morgue is up to 5 only.)

Ordoña said some of the bodies, which were properly kept inside body bags, were placed in the hallway of the morgue but not inside the main hospital.

However, he said as of Saturday, the number of bodies in the morgue has gone down to 6.

“We’re actually looking for a portable morgue kung saan pwedeng ilagay ’yung freezer na ito. We’re actually looking for rentals. S’yempre merong donors, highly appreciated,” Ordoña said.

He said the hospital does not have freezers in the morgue, because in the past bodies were immediately retrieved by relatives within six hours after death.

Ordoña said it’s hard to pinpoint the cause of the delay.

“Ang mga pamilya hindi rin agresibo na mag-check o asikasuhin ’yung remains ng kanilang kamag-anak,” he said. “Doon naman sa Quezon City health department, ang alam namin puno na ang slots ng cremation.”

(Families do not immediately check and tend to the remains of their relative . . . With the Quezon City health department, we were told that slots for cremation have been filled up.)

However, he said he is not sure if this is still true. He said mass cremation is the responsibility of the local government unit so his hospital is not aware if there are indeed problems.

ABS-CBN News tried contacting the Quezon City LGU for comments but has yet to get a response.

Ordoña said the problem started this week.

“Doon medyo nagsisimula na mag-pile up ’yung aming cadaver,” he said. “Nasa morgue. Nandu’n sila. Although walang freezer. ’Yun ’yung issue namin.”

(That’s when the cadavers started piling up . . . They are in the morgue, although we don’t have a freezer. That’s the issue now.)

He assured the public that the area is well-ventilated and that employees entering the morgue wear gas masks and personal protective equipment, as a precautionary measure since the COVID-19 test results for the patients have yet to be released.

Quezon City is one of the cities that have designated a crematorium for COVID-related cases. The Department of Health said on Saturday that other LGUs should also put up such a facility.

If relatives are unable to have a PUI cremated, they would have to resort to bringing the body to a private crematorium.

Ordoña said this would cost the families P65,000 to P120,000 and many are unable to shoulder the expense.

He said relatives end up waiting in line for a slot and that the hospital would assist to expedite the process since the official recommendation for COVID-19 and PUI fatalities is for cremation within 12 hours of the time of death.

As for body bags, Ordoña said the supply is enough since they only use about 10 to 15 body bags a day for the whole hospital and not just COVID-19 cases.

He said while the LGU was able to retrieve the bodies for cremation, the hospital still needs a mortuary freezer.

He also assured the public that the bodies are “well respected” and that protocols are being followed to ensure the safety of health care workers in the hospital.

While the EAMC did not say how many COVID-19 cases there are in the hospital because of the centralized reporting required by the DOH, based on the DOH’s Summary of Positive Cases and Case Bulletins, EAMC had 7 COVID-19 patients as of April 2, one of whom died. The DOH has yet to release new data on COVID-19 cases, including a breakdown for hospitals, as it deals with backlog entries.

As of Saturday, there were 4,428 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Philippines. Of that number, 247 have died and 157 have recovered. The DOH has not yet released an updated number of PUIs.