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San Joaquin County can’t afford new morgue

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Posted: Tuesday, September 6, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 7:07 am, Tue Sep 6, 2011.

San Joaquin County Sheriff Steve Moore said he agrees with the grand jury that a new morgue is needed, but there isn’t enough money in the county budget to build one.

The San Joaquin County Grand Jury determined in a report released in June that the morgue is small and outdated for a county with more than 640,000 residents. Built in the 1930s and converted into a morgue in the mid-1980s, the building can fit 23 bodies and six more in temporary storage, according to the grand jury.

“The (sheriff’s office) agrees with the grand jury’s recommendation to build a new facility,” Moore said in his official response to the jury. “A request for a new morgue was submitted via this year’s budget process for an estimated $35 million for construction. Unfortunately, the current budget situation precludes that from happening.”

Moore also talked with Stanislaus County about operating a joint morgue in Ripon, which is just north of the Stanislaus County line, but the project fell through because of the economy.

The Board of Supervisors officially approved Moore’s response last week.

Moore reported that the sheriff’s office has replaced an awning over the front door to the morgue because it had dry rot. The staff also relocated jars with a substance called formalin, which the grand jury described as carcinogenic and a hazard for people who work at or visit the morgue.

The formalin jars were moved from the autopsy suite to the columbarium, Moore wrote. Due to Occupational Health standards, the morgue staff now wears badges detecting formalin twice a year, with the results sent to the hospital to determine whether exposure levels are acceptable.

The last analysis, received by the sheriff’s office on July 25, showed that the formalin exposure was within safe levels, Moore reported.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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