WILLIAMSPORT, LYCOMING COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — The Lycoming County Coroner’s Office says they need to expand to accommodate a spike in deaths in the region. Now, they’re calling on local officials to step in.
Lycoming County Coroner Charles Kiessling says a rise in numbers coming through his office has left them with no choice but to acquire an extra facility to supplement the county’s single morgue. A request that’s going to require an increase in funding from the Lycoming County Commissioners.
In a year of unprecedented death in America the Lycoming County Coroner’s Office says their facilities have been overwhelmed. Kiessling has been the Lycoming County Coroner for over 20 years.
“We operate on the crumbs of a $92 million budget,” Kiessling said.
He says a surge in deaths has left the county’s facilities over-run, and at times, its’ only morgue overcrowded.
“This facility is 17 years old, and we’ve just, as I’ve showed you, we’ve just grown to the point where we don’t have room any more to function with the shared space that we have here,” Kiessling said.
Limited space has forced the coroner to turn a family ID room into a makeshift closet and a bathroom into storage for PPE. Kiessling says in the absence of proper facilities, his staff has even been forced to launder and disinfect materials in their personal homes despite reservations caused by COVID.
“Right now we have to take stuff home, and launder things with our home laundry. Now, more than ever, that’s not a good idea. But we don’t have another option,” Kiessling said.
The primary culprit for the spike is an increase in suicide and drug-related deaths. Kiessling says his office has handled a limited number of COVID-related cases, but views the trends as connected.
“So I think the stress of unemployment, with everything being shut down, and the uncertainty of what’s in store for folks, was just too much,” Kiessling said.
Lycoming County Commissioner Rick Mirabito believes the coroner has a legitimate grievance.
“The challenge has always been to find something that meets the needs of the coroner, but at the same time protects the taxpayers,” Mirabito said.
He says the commissioners have allocated over $1.4 million to the office for 2021, but knows a supplemental facility must remain on the county radar.
“We should not allow a situation to develop where it becomes hazardous, where bodies are stacked up and so forth. And I don’t think any of the commissioners want to see that happen,” Mirabito said.
Kiessling says the number of cases tasked to this office this year has already eclipsed last year’s total.
Tragically, in the case of drug overdose he says those figures are up six or seven hundred percent per year from when he assumed his role.