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Hospital morgue wrestles with rotting corpses

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16:09 CET+01:00
Corpses at the morgue of the Karolinska University Hospital in Huddinge, south of Stockholm, have started to rot due to a breakdown in procedures related to renovation of the facility.

“The scene in there is horrifying,” a person with first-hand experience of the situation told the Aftonbladet newspaper.

The source described how dead bodies are sloppily wrapped in bloody sheets, often leaving their genitals exposed.

The morgue is currently undergoing a major renovation in order to increase its capacity.

But as work has progressed in recent weeks, bodies currently housed in the facility have not been cared for properly.

The situation is so bad that external funeral home personnel blew the whistle on the uncared for corpses by posting a note on the hospital's bulletin board.

“Cover the bodies for God's sake,” reads the note.

“These are people we're dealing with.”

When confronted with the accusations that the hospital was failing to live up to its responsibility to treat corpses respectfully, morgue supervisor Gert Ridhagen acknowledged the problem, but explained that many of the root causes lie outside the morgue's control.

“There's some truth in the criticism. But we've received a number of deceased over the Christmas and New Year holidays. And besides, many have already been lying for awhile in their homes. So the decomposition process has already begun,” he told the newspaper.

Ridhagen added that the problem is aggravated by a lack of available storage room at nearby funeral homes.

In Sweden, an average of 20 days passes between a person's death and their burial, according to Aftonbladet.

In the Stockholm area, however, it takes an average of 30 days before bodies reach their final resting place.

“That's an extremely long time by international standards,” Bo Forslund, a spokesperson for the Fonus group of funeral homes, told the newspaper, adding that no more than eight days passes between death and burial in neighbouring Norway and Denmark.

He explained that, even when kept refrigerated, corpses eventually begin to rot.

“I don't think people understand what happens to a relative's body. But at the same time, everyone has goods in their refrigerator. They ought to realize that bodies decompose,” said Forslund.

He blames the often lengthy burial delays on a political decision to close morgues at municipality-operated nursing homes and care facilities, which has put increased pressure on hospital morgues while at the same time introducing additional logistical and administrative complications.

“The fewer nodes that handle the bodies, the lower the risk that shortcomings occur,” he told the newspaper.

Sweden's culture ministry, which is responsible for matters related to burial, is currently considering a proposal which would reduce the length of time that bodies can be kept in a morgue from two months down to one month.

The proposal has been put out to various agencies for comment until March 1st.

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