PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Transporting bodies from a hospital to the medical examiner’s office in Philadelphia in the back of a pickup truck is “unacceptable,” a city Department of Public Health spokesman said after images of a contractor stepping on the bodies while unloading them from the truck bed were captured over the weekend.
A photographer for The Philadelphia Inquirer captured images of the delivery of five or six bodies that were enclosed in white body bags and covered by mats in the back of the pickup truck Sunday afternoon. The bodies were delivered to a facility where the city has secured several refrigerated trailers to help with an increased need for body storage from hospitals and private funeral homes.
James Garrow, a spokesman for Philadelphia’s public health department, said Tuesday that the delivery was an isolated occurrence that was not up to the standard transportation protocols. He said there was no way to know if the bodies in the truck were patients who had died from coronavirus because the additional trailers are not only dedicated to COVID-19 patients.
“The Medical Examiner’s Office regularly works with hospitals throughout Philadelphia to ensure that bodies are treated with the utmost dignity and respect. Part of that relationship is well-established and long-standing transportation protocols,” Garrow wrote in a statement. “On Sunday, these protocols were not followed during what was expected to be a routine transfer of bodies for storage. The Health Department is appalled that this happened, and strongly reminded the referring hospital of the existing protocols. This is not normal or acceptable.”
The Inquirer reported that several of the body bags being taken from the truck had black letters with versions of Albert Einstein Medical Center’s name on them. A message seeking comment from the medical center on whether the contractor who delivered the bodies was still employed or had faced any repercussions was not immediately returned Tuesday.
The Inquirer cited a statement from the medical center sent Monday night saying it “deeply apologized” and was seeking an update on pandemic protocols from its contractor. The statement said the hospital contracts with a funeral home to transfer bodies to the medical examiner, but did not identify that contractor.
Garrow said the protocols for transferring bodies are clearly communicated to the funeral homes and other providers who bring bodies to the medical examiner’s office, and that they would not be made public.
The surge in coronavirus deaths in hotspots such as New York City has overwhelmed the storage space many funeral homes and medical examiners’ offices have.