Mini-Morgue Reopens on St. John, Easing Pressure on Standoff

St. John Rescue ambulance

Schneider Regional Medical Center has taken a small step that may bring relief to a standoff over the retrieval of dead bodies on St. John. A top official at the medical center said operations in the mini-morgue at the Myrah Keating Smith Clinic have resumed.

MKSC is the primary urgent care facility on St. John. It closed a few weeks after the passage of Hurricanes Irma and Maria because of damage to the roof from flying debris and failure of the emergency generator.

SRMC Chief Executive Officer Bernard Wheatley said Friday that air conditioning problems at MKSC were fixed, allowing the three-body mini morgue to return to service. The improvements were reported to Justice and the Medical Examiner’s Office.

“The morgue at Myrah Keating is now operational. We restored power to the building and we added freon to the system. And I informed the AG’s Office through my vice president of operation, Darryl Smalls, about this,” Wheatley said.

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Attorney General Claude Walker said having access to the MKSC morgue gives respite to the uncertainty that had prevailed for weeks over retrieval of the dead.

“That thing is functioning. There was a minute problem with the air conditioning,” Walker said. “If they pick up a body and they can’t transport it over night, they can store it there and then in the morning we can come and pick it up.”

For about 10 years, volunteers at St. John Rescue provided community service by responding to calls for persons declared dead on arrival. Prior to that St. John Public Works department did the duty with help from a surplus hearse they acquired. A retired National Park Service ranger did the driving.

Six weeks after the Justice Department delivered a proposed agreement to a St. John volunteer emergency service group, there remains no word about progress towards a deal. A spokeswoman for the rescue group said in July, saying the terms of the memorandum sent over by Justice were more than the group was prepared to meet.

Walker said it’s up to St. John Rescue to act.

“I can’t force an adult to sign a contract. It’s against the law,” he said.

Attorney Mark Wilczynski, representing the volunteers, was not immediately available for comment.

SRMC officials, meanwhile, point out that in spite of the restoration of air conditioning MKSC remains closed. Contractors installed a modular clinic in the MKSC parking lot over the summer.

Although government officials were pleased to show off the modular to a group of visiting Washington lawmakers two weeks ago, a sign along the roadway at Route 10 directs the public in need of medical assistance to visit the Morris de Castro Clinic in Cruz Bay.

Shared content for Virgin Islands Source and St. John Tradewinds.

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