Morgue’s ‘staff shortage’ takes toll on distressed families
A FUNERAL director has blown the whistle on the lack of staff at the Gold Coast University Hospital mortuary, saying they're "overworked" and struggling to cope with the increase in dead bodies.
One family was told their deceased loved one was "12th in line at the mortuary". They are desperately waiting for his body to be released so they can organise a funeral.
"We've been told that his body might not be released until next Wednesday (May 5)," said a relative of the person who died this week.
"We were told that it was because there had been a lot of tragic deaths on the Gold Coast recently, they're obviously understaffed."
The whistleblower funeral director said there were only two people who undertook post-mortem examinations at the mortuary and there had been no increase in staffing levels there since the new hospital was built in 2013, despite a massive spike in the city's population.
"They're overworked and it's been like this for years," said the funeral director, who did not want to be named.
"There really needs to be about six people in that mortuary, even in a normal situation.
"Just two people doing post mortems is not enough. If someone gets sick, as happened recently, this means one person is handling the whole workload.
"Because the population has grown so dramatically and because of the COVID-19 situation, and the increase in suicides on the Gold Coast, their workload has increased but staffing levels have not."
If a person died of natural causes a doctor needed to sign a certificate, but if that hadn't been done, the person in the mortuary had to chase it before funeral directors could collect the body.
"Distressed families are having to wait to see their loved ones and we're like the agent between them and the hospital.
"We funeral directors get blamed but it's not us holding up the release of the deceased - it's not an easy job."
The whistleblower funeral director said staff in the mortuary worked in an environment where they were "handling deceased people all the time".
"It's not as if they are working in a chemist or a shopping centre, they're working in a very dicey situation and it's not a very nice environment or situation for people to work in eight-hours-a-day.
"Bodies come in all the time and it's not always just a matter of releasing them, there's a lot of processes that have to take place, particularly in regards to identifying people.
He said staff in the mortuary were put under more pressure when the coroner requested an autopsy to help determine how and why a person died. This generally happens after a reportable death, such as when a death is violent or unnatural, healthcare related or suspicious.
When asked if there'd been an increase in staffing levels at the GCUH mortuary since the health service moved from Southport to Parkwood, a Queensland Health (QH) spokesperson said: "There are five QH (Health Support Queensland) staff and one Queensland Police Service officer employed full time in the mortuary."
"GCUH and other QH staff visit the mortuary as part of their daily operational duties.
"The GCUH mortuary receives deceased people from the hospital, as well as coroners' cases from the community. However, only a small proportion undergo coronial autopsy.
"There is no backlog in releasing the deceased from the Gold Coast University Hospital mortuary."
A GCUH senior staffer said the entire hospital was under-resourced and struggling to meet the demand from a growing population, and that despite restructuring to cut costs, the money had not been funnelled into funding extra resources.
"Staff, particularly nursing staff at GCUH are really struggling and just so burnt out."
Asked whether the mortuary was understaffed, they said: "I wouldn't be surprised if that's the case actually. There's a freeze on a lot of things at the moment."
Originally published as Coast morgue's 'staff shortage' takes toll on 'distressed' families