Coroner: You're gonna need a bigger morgue

Coroner: You're gonna need a bigger morgue
The county shared morgue space with Phoebe Main currently (Source: WALB)
The county shared morgue space with Phoebe Main currently (Source: WALB)
Michael Fowler (Source: WALB)
Michael Fowler (Source: WALB)

DOUGHERTY CO., GA (WALB) - Dougherty Coroner Michael Fowler has run into a problem; where to store all the people who have died recently in Albany?

It's an issue not only in Dougherty County, but the entire state of Georgia is in a similar dilemma.

The GBI just held a ribbon-cutting for the expansion of their headquarters morgue facility this week.

And here in Dougherty County, county commissioners are considering leasing more morgue space for the coroner at Phoebe North.

Twenty homicides happened in Albany this year alone. It's a total that's keeping Dougherty County Coroner Michael Fowler very busy.

"It's a lot going on this year that normally doesn't usually happen, since the last four years that I've been in office. I don't know," said Fowler.

Right now, Fowler shares morgue space with Phoebe Putney's Main campus.  There are only eight coolers to share among the hospital and the county.

And while Fowler said they've never reached full capacity, the growing number of homicides and drug overdoses is putting a strain on the facility.

"I think that plays a great part.  The drug ODs, and people shooting one another, killing now.  They just don't care," he said. "The violence that people have in their mindset now, just killing one another, it's gone up tremendously."

GBI Public Affairs Deputy Director Bahan Rich said the recent opioid epidemic is contributing to the need for more autopsies, which is causing the GBI's Headquarters morgue facility to reach maximum capacity, and in turn, causing delays in investigations.

"But sometimes our resources that we have in Macon and also at Headquarters can be overwhelmed at times.  The volume can increase to the point where we just have to wait on certain cases," said GBI Public Affairs Deputy Director Bahan Rich.  "We do the best that we can."

On Wednesday, the GBI held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the expansion of its Headquarters.  Now, instead of only being able to handle 50 bodies, they can handle up to 120 bodies.

Michael Fowler said he'd like to see more cooler space available for the county. He said a good temporary solution would be to lease space at Phoebe North, instead of sharing morgue space with Phoebe Main.

"It's cheaper than building a whole new morgue right now," he said.  "Because right now, the SPLOST 7 money is not there.  It's going to take years to get that built up.  So this is the best solution right now. "

County commissioners will vote on the lease agreement with Phoebe North at the next meeting on Monday.

If it's approved, the contract would start December first.

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