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'It's hard to sell death'

"The Kitsap County Coroner's Office's top two officials will be traveling to Washington, D.C., next month to lobby for funds to help them move out of condemned quarters and into a new site at the Emergency Readiness Center in Bremerton.Coroner Greg Sandstrom and Chief Deputy Coroner Don Ursery have already set up meetings with more than a dozen legislators to try to seal a commitment for the $2.7 million to cover the cost of building a 94,000-square-foot facility.The Coroner's Office doesn't need any money to procure the land because the Army National Guard is exchanging it for an in-kind contribution of training.Coroner's Office personnel say they have outgrown the current county morgue, located on Sidney Street, adjacent to the jail expansion project. We're running out of room, said Deputy Coroner Aaron Davis.The second floor of the morgue building was condemned and the Feb. 28 earthquake left a giant crack in the building. The condemned floor of the morgue is now used to house files, some supplies, cremated remains and tissue samples, which the Coroner's Office is required to keep for five years.Downstairs, where the autopsies are performed, Coroner's Office personnel store more tissue and fluid samples and property in a refrigeration unit. There's some cabinet space in one wall and an approximately 10-foot-by-five-foot walkway for supplies. Next to the cabinet, the forensic pathologist and assistants perform the autopsies.Deceased bodies are kept in a refrigeration unit on another wall. With hydraulic lifts; stacks of metal trays used to hold the bodies; steel, rolling cabinets covered in empty vials and supplies encroaching on the area where the autopsy table juts from a sink unit into the room, space is scarce.In a tiny phone closet in the Coroner's Office up the street from the morgue, deputy coroners have installed a filing cabinet to store decedents' property. You make do with what you have, Davis said.He said the Coroner's Office needs more storage space to keep samples for the mandatory amount of time - samples taken from homicide victims must be kept indefinitely - and more space for personnel to work. If he could have his way, he said, he would ask federal legislators for the money to give us the fundamental space we need to help us perform our job. Space seems like a relative thing, but you look back here and there's (equipment) everywhere.Space is a relative thing, (but) for doing autopsies, storing blood, storing case files ... we need that space, he said.In 1999, four deputy coroners investigated 246 deaths. They have more deputy coroners today, but Davis said they need to hire additional people to deal with the workload. Plans for the new facility demonstrate significant enhancements over the current building.They include a special isolation refrigeration unit where decomposing or diseased decedents could be placed until they could be autopsied. Adjacent to it is an isolation autopsy room, where they can be examined separately from the large, central autopsy room.An autopsy viewing room would allow law enforcement personnel, other doctors or medical students to view an autopsy in progress without impeding the pathologist's ability to move around the room. Family members could also identify bodies from the room with curtains drawn around the rest of the examination area, thereby insulating them from further trauma.The new facility would also boast an X-ray room - currently, the Coroner's Office has to transport decedents to Harrison for X-rays - and a skeletal remains room, where a specialist could examine found bones.Chaplains would have an office in the new facility as well as conference rooms for talking with family members of the deceased.Just off the central autopsy room would be a laundry room, where coroners could deposit their scrubs for cleaning and sterilization, and locker rooms with showers. Nearby, there would be a weight room. Lifting bodies is taxing work, Sandstrom said, and the Coroner's Office wants personnel to stay fit.A garage on the basement level would allow access for mortuary or morgue vehicles to drop off and pick up decedents. The basement also contains storage and emergency storage as well as secure parking for employees.Sandstrom and Ursery went to D.C. last year and were assured they would get funding for the new facility, but things changed at the last minute and the money was diverted elsewhere. When we didn't get it, we were told not to give up. Nobody gets money the first year, Sandstrom said.It's hard to sell death, Ursery added. It's easier to market a new wing on a hospital.But that's not to say the support isn't there. Ursery said legislators and county commissioners recognize there's a need for training and for the new facility, but, again, it's the money. It always hinges on finance. "

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