Amid rising coronavirus (COVID-19) deaths in the province, the BC Coroners Service says a mobile morgue unit has been deployed in the Fraser Health Authority.
There is a provincial working group established with all health authorities, BC Funeral Association, and the BC Coroners Service to actively monitor the capacity of mortuaries across the province and to ensure plans are in place for potential increases in demand for storage, a spokesperson for the Coroners Service told Vancouver Is Awesome in an email.
While there is morgue space in both hospitals and private facilities across the province, part of the plan for additional space includes the deployment of mobile morgue facilities at hospital sites.
The spokesperson adds: "Our priority is the respectful, secure storage for decedents."
To date, only one unit has been deployed to the Fraser Health Authority.
Capacity at morgues before the pandemic
While COVID-19 has increased pressure on mortuaries across the province, Jason Everden, president of the B.C. Funeral Association, told V.I.A. that storage capacity was already a concern prior to the pandemic.
"Death is sporadic--it never comes as a gentle flow. Typically, there will be a lot of deaths at one time, and over the years that's been an issue at hospitals. So, it took a pandemic for us to realize that we need to make improvements in those areas," he explains.
Everden notes that three issues are currently pushing capacity limits: the increase in death rates of the elderly, which is natural--and the overdose crisis and COVID-19 pandemic, which are not.
There have been over 1,000 deaths from COVID-19 in B.C., and the province's overdose death toll surpassed 1,500 in 2020.
Recent statistics equate to more than five people per day dying of an overdose in the province, with extreme concentrations of fentanyl still present in the drug supply, according to the coroners’ service data.
Dr. Patricia Daly, the chief medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, has said many times this year that she feared more drug users were using alone because of public health orders and measures related to the pandemic that may have been misinterpreted by hotel owners and housing providers.
--With files from Mike Howell.