Crisis over unclaimed bodies at Meru mortuary

Police and members of the public view the body of an accident victim who succumbed moments after being rescued by a miraa driver at Mutego, along the Meru-Nkubu road on January 24, 2023. There was drama after the miraa vehicle driver drove to Meru Police station carrying the body after officials at Meru Level Five hospital declined to receive it claiming that the mortuary was full.

Photo credit: Charles Wanyoro I Nation Media Group

Meru Teaching and Referral Hospital is in crisis after its mortuary filled up to capacity following delays by the courts to give disposal orders for unclaimed bodies.

The morgue chambers, whose capacity is 60 bodies, is currently holding about 319 bodies overstretching the facility and posing a health hazard.

The pile up of bodies at the Meru referral hospital morgue has also affected Miathene and Nyambene Level Four hospitals.

On Monday, there was drama after the miraa vehicle driver drove to Meru Police station carrying the body after officials at Meru Level Five hospital declined to receive it claiming that the mortuary was full.

This has now revived calls for the establishment of a municipal mortuary to decongest hospital morgues and ensure quality service delivery.

Nyambene hospital mortuary which has a capacity of 30 bodies has been holding 260 bodies but got a reprieve on Monday (yesterday) when the Maua court granted an order for disposal.

Miathene Level Four Hospital has a capacity of 15 bodies.

At Meru Teaching and Referral Hospital, the situation is so dire that morgue attendants have had to turn away police officers delivering unclaimed bodies as well as those collected from crime scenes.

Imenti North police commander Ezekiel Chepkwony said police officers have had to transport bodies 25 kilometres away from the referral hospital due to the congestion.

Speaking to Nation, Meru Teaching and Referral Hospital acting chief executive officer Dr Gacheri Kathiiri said pile up has been caused by inability to secure a disposal order from the courts since November 2022.

The law provides that bodies that remain unclaimed at the mortuary for 10 days can be disposed of through a court order.

“We usually make applications to the court for permission to dispose of bodies every two weeks. Since November last year, we have not been able to dispose of the unclaimed bodies. On average, we dispose of about 30 bodies every two weeks,” Dr Gacheri said.

Besides unidentified bodies, Dr Gacheri said the backlog was also as a result of land and family disputes.

Nyambene Level Four Hospital head Dr Githu Wachira urged residents who do not intend to bury their relatives to give consent for disposal.

“When the family signs the consent forms at the hospital, it becomes easier to obtain court orders. However, many of them abandon the bodies without a word,” Dr Wachira said.

A spot check on the morgue established that one chamber, which is meant for three bodies, is holding more than 20 bodies.

The morgue is also stuck with 90 bodies of fetuses piling pressure on the facility.

Dr Gacheri said the courts have been demanding that the hospital goes an extra mile to ensure the bodies are identified before seeking a disposal order.

An official at the hospital said an attempt by the police to identify the unclaimed bodies to meet the court directive proved futile as only one body could be identified using finger prints.

“Once the bodies are identified, the hospital is required to notify the government administrators to trace the deceased families. This is a tedious process that may cause prolonged backlog,” the acting CEO said.

The Meru Referral hospital executive noted that they were working towards increasing the morgue capacity to 90 bodies.

“We are in the process of installing two more freezers that will hold 15 bodies each. This will enable us to reduce the congestion,” Dr Gacheri said.

She called on residents who need mortuary services to utilise other facilities as the county government works on decongesting the hospital morgues.