NEWBERRY — Newberry County Council has unanimously approved buying a mobile morgue at the request of County Coroner Craig Newton.
Newton said a $56,000 grant was approved that could be used to pay for the mobile morgue and a Stryker stretcher, a battery operated device that one person can handle instead of the outdated model his employees currently use. The current model requires two to three people to work it.
The purchase is an amendment to the budget due to the time sensitive nature of grant funding needed for the project.
The Newberry Memorial Hospital would benefit from the grant because Newton said its morgue space is too small. The capacity is four but Newton said Newberry Pathology averages six autopsies a day. Newton said bodies are sometimes stored in neighboring counties until space is free at NMH for autopsies to be performed.
Unidentified and unclaimed bodies present another challenge to the county that a mobile morgue would help address, according to the county coroner’s office. Newton said NMH has no plans to enlarge its morgue.
“This is a glaring issue. We need morgue space and have none,” he said.
The mobile morgue station would be used as overflow for NMH and also give the county more capability in the event of a mass casualty event.
With interstate highways and two airports nearby, Newton said the county needed to be ready for such an incident. The mobile morgue also could double as a rehabilitation center for EMS and fire workers by providing a refrigerated trailer they could use as a tool when fighting fires.
“We are a breeding ground for a mass casualty event but (in my opinion) are not ready for it,” Newton said.
The grant expires in June so Newton said time was of the essence.
Newton also requested the county buy a truck as a multi-use vehicle for his office, which averages about 26 calls per month, including 17 so far in February. The coroner’s office currently has three vehicles — one response vehicle, a box-style ambulance and CRV-type ambulance.
Newton said he uses his personal vehicle because the office has one response vehicle, a Trailblazer, that is shared between the coroner and three deputy coroners. Newton said the vehicle rotates to the person on call and that adding a vehicle to the fleet would cut down on wear and tear on the Trailblazer. He said multiple fatality calls cause logistical issues at present and asked about liability concerns due to personal vehicles being used to fill that gap. Personal vehicles are not upfitted with emergency gear.
Newton said the vehicle being considered, a 2014 Dodge Ram costing $32,739, would replace a 2004 ambulance that currently is in the county fleet resulting in insurance savings. Newton proposed a truck with an elevated camper top and barn doors instead of a tailgate. The truck would contain at Stryker stretcher enabling the coroner’s office to do transports without tying up EMS resources.
Council approved purchasing the mobile morgue and stretcher but voted unanimously to do more research about alternative vehicles and upfits in an effort to spend tax money prudently, Council Chairman Buddy Livingston said.
Newton estimated upfitting a truck would cost $4,000 and was open to the idea of upfitting a vehicle currently in the county fleet for the coroner’s offices purposes, provided the vehicle has an 8-foot bed.
In other business:
• Kirksey Koon nominated Adam Crouch to replace Glenn Hamm on the County Board of Rescue.
• The county recognized employees for years of service including Sheriff Lee Foster (25 years) and NSCO employees Erin Storey-Shealy (five years) and Michael Clanton (10 years).
• Second readings passed unanimously for an ordinance to amend the master agreement governing the Greenwood-Newberry Industrial Park to enlarge the park; for an ordinance authorizing a fee in lieu of tax agreement and infrastructure finance agreement between Newberry County, South Carolina and West Fraser Inc.; and an ordinance to amend the budget to provide revised revenue and expenditure appropriations.
• Council unanimously approved paying an $18,000 invoice to the Central SC Alliance.
• Upcoming meetings of county council include the Personnel and Intergovernmental Relations Committee at 6 p.m. Feb. 24; Public Works and Planning Committee at 6 p.m. March 3; Newberry County Council at 7 p.m. March 5 and at 7 p.m March 19.
Monday’s edition of The Newberry Observer will include more coverage from the meeting.