The first morgue in Lodi's history opened this year, deep in the bowels of Lodi Memorial Hospital.
Lodi Memorial has never had a morgue, which may not seem like a major issue: After all, the county coroner conducts all autopsies for suspicious deaths, leaving only a handful for the hospital to do.
But what if you're the person conducting those autopsies?
Dr. Elvira Milano is that person. The pathologist and current chief of staff at the hospital, she went to considerable trouble to examine dead bodies.
"Prior to having the morgue, we used to have to go to the mortuary to do them — which was less than optimal," Milano said. "I'd have to make arrangements (to conduct the autopsy) when it was convenient."
Those arrangements weren't always easy. Between the mortuary finding time for her and loved ones not wanting to delay laying a relative to rest, it was a balancing act just getting time to conduct an autopsy. Not to mention the fact Milano had to bring all of her tools and even a bucket of formaldehyde in case she needed to transport organs. But Milano said the mortuaries tried to accommodate her.
"The mortuaries were very cooperative about getting me in ... in a timely fashion so I could do what I needed to do," she said.
Although Milano conducts few autopsies (she performed only six all of last year), a new morgue saves her a great deal of hassle. Plus, the hospital needed a morgue anyway: Regulations require a hospital with more than 100 beds to have a functioning morgue. When Lodi Memorial went under extensive renovations, it crossed the 100-bed threshold.
And so, the brand-new morgue opened in January.
The spartan room with taupe-painted walls is state-of-the-art. Shiny metallic sinks adorn one wall, with multiple refrigerators spread throughout the facility.
The large body-storage refrigerator can easily fit two gurneys with accompanying bodies, and dozens more in the event of a natural disaster, Milano said.
Another, taller refrigerator near one of the morgue's entrances can be used to store organs for upcoming surgeries. The temperature of the refrigerators is closely monitored, and if either's temperature drops to an unsafe level, an alarm will sound that alerts the hospital's operator, Milano said.
The floor has a drain in the center for easy cleaning, and does not get slippery when wet. There is also a computer and printer, an eye-wash station, and a shower for washing off bodily fluids and cleaning weighing tools and dissecting tools.
"Everything is right there as I need it ... for all the things we need to do during an autopsy," Milano said.
Additionally, the room benefits from having excellent ventilation. Milano demonstrated this with a tissue she held up to a vent: The tissue stays pressed against it, held in place by the air flowing through.
But Milano's favorite feature may be the new operating table. The large, adjustable rolling table hooks up directly to a sink in the morgue, so water can flow underneath it and wash fluids away. It also has a removable shroud, to conceal the body as it is transported to the morgue.
"It's really quite remarkable," she said.
For further discretion, the morgue is located near the hospital's docking bay. This allows mortuaries to pick up the body without drawing unneeded attention.
The morgue came as a result of three years of planning, and Milano drew on her years of experience in other facilities to come up with an economical and efficient morgue. She previously practiced at both San Francisco General Hospital and the University of California at San Francisco.
And how much easier will life be, now that she has a morgue to conduct autopsies in?
"Being in an environment where everything is right there as I need it ... is just much more conducive to doing a better and quicker job," she said.
Contact reporter Fernando Gallo at firstname.lastname@example.org.