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Transportation of deceased by JCESA to cease

By Staff | Aug 1, 2014

The Jefferson County Emergency Services Agency (JCESA) has announced that the practice of transportation of and the custody of the deceased by Emergency Medical Service (EMS) providers in Jefferson County will cease Aug. 16.

In the past, EMS crews have provided the service of transportation of deceased individuals after being called to the scene where an individual has passed away. In the past, providers have transported the deceased to either Jefferson Memorial Hospital or to a temporary location at a local funeral home.

“Until four years ago, the Jefferson Medical Center morgue was available to EMS to hold the deceased until decisions could be made by the immediate family members,” said JCESA Director Doug Pittinger. “When that facility became unavailable, JCESA purchased a portable morge which was graciously housed by a local funeral home. That arrangement will cease operations Aug. 16.”

The change in procedure comes after a year of high demand for EMS services along with budget cuts from the county. A lower volunteer turn-out across the county’s six volunteer EMS companies has also contributed to the change.

“We are not insensitive to the needs of the grieving family,” said Ed Hannon, JCESA deputy director. “Our providers are caring people, who chose this profession because they enjoy helping people and they will continue to handle withese situations with compassion, respect and dignity.”

Hannon went on to say that with the elimination of 4,360 career coverage hours as a result of a 20 percent budget cut, the mission of saving lives must become the top priority.

According to a release issued by the JCESA, the new operational guideline states that if the circumstance meets the criteria for the State of West Virginia Medical Examiner to investigate, as determined by the County Medical Examiner on call, “EMS staff will return to service upon arrival of law enforcement and/or the medical examiner. EMS volunteer providers may, at their discretion, remain on scene pending the arrival f the medical examiner. The medical examiner will assume custody of the body, transportation and control of the scene.”

Pittinger explained that the mission of the EMS in Jefferson County is to “provide life-saving emergency care to those in need of emergency medical services. This cannot be done by dedicating limited personnel for extended periods to handle and transport deceased individuals while other resources are available for this purpose.”

Pittinger also said that the transportation of the deceased who require a medical examiner’s investigation will be handled through the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office. Those who have enrolled in Hospice and those who have made prior arrangements with local funeral homes will not be affected by this change, Pittinger said.

EMS crews will offer information on appropriate local funeral homes to those who have not made prior arrangements for transportation, Pittinger said.

Shepherdstown EMS Chief Marshall DeMeritt commented saying, “We understand that this is a trying time for the family of the deceased, and we assure you that our crews will maintain the utmost respect for the situation at all times, however, the time it takes to take control of the deceased and transport to a facility potentially leaves the community without a staffed ambulance in that area that is designed and dedicated to emergency lifesaving response.”

“With limited resources throughout the county, we must be cognizant of the need for resources, while still maintaining the level of passion that the community residents are accustomed to,” DeMeritt continued.