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Grand jurd finds county morgue substandard

By Jia-Rui Chong, Daily Planet staff
Saturday March 30, 2002

Oakland facility criticized for lack of space, parking, disabled access, poor ventilation  

The Alameda County morgue in Oakland is “shockingly unsatisfactory and in serious crisis,” according to a report issued Tuesday by an Alameda grand jury.  

This is the second year in a row a grand jury has criticized the facility for being substandard, antiquated and overcrowded. 

Specifically criticized were the lack of access for disabled people, inadequate parking, limited movement for employees and visitors because of narrow staircases, poor ventilation, body-receiving docks in open view, lack of private interview space for family members and lack of space in the event of a mass casualty disaster. 

The report suggested that the coroner’s office be relocated or else use portable buildings in the parking lost east of the present building.  

Lt. Cynthia Harris, Berkeley Police Department spokesperson, said the BPD has not had any problems with the coroner’s office, though they deal with the office all the time. 

“Our relationship with them is fine. I haven’t heard any complaints from homicide,” said Harris. 

But Lt. Jim Knudsen, spokesperson for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, which oversees the coroner’s office, said that Sheriff Charles Plummer is aware of the problem. 

“The sheriff is very concerned. He has said repeatedly it needs to be replaced,” Knudsen said. 

Staff in the Sheriff’s Office are currently analyzing the report to see what can be done. 

Knudsen said that he already knows some of the suggestions that the Grand Jury made are not practical. 

“Putting a portable building in the parking lot takes parking and storage from other facilities. That puts a burden on those other facilities,” said Knudsen. 

Renting other space may not be practical either, he added. 

“There are special autopsy tables that we use that are hard to move. We could get new ones for the interim, but that might not be the best value for the tax dollar,” said Knudsen. 

The Grand Jury’s report called for immediate action, but a solution will probably not happen any time soon. 

Supervisor Keith Carson, who chairs the budget committee, said that the county is currently strapped for cash. The state’s $18 billion deficit means that the county’s budget will likely be even tighter this year. 

“The coroner’s office does need a new office. Nobody’s saying it doesn’t, but we have to evaluate the capital needs of the county,” said Carson. 

In addition to the need for facilities such as a new public hospital and Juvenile Hall, Carson said the county must also consider how to maintain the social services currently available. 

Although the amount of available funds has gone down, said Carson, “What hasn’t gone down is the number of people using county services. That’s actually gone up. The number of people needing health insurance, unemployment – all of these people use the county safety net.” 

That is, the sheriff’s facility is one building on a list of concerns for the county, and it isn’t at the top. 

But Knudsen hopes that the problem can be solved in the not-too-distant future. He said the Sheriff’s Office is hopeful that a new facility in San Leandro can be built in a couple of years.