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Winnebago County Coroner’s Office changes morgue policy

When area hospitals need help storing unclaimed bodies, they used to rely on the coroner’s office morgue. But, starting January 1, 2022, they can’t.
Winnebago County Coroner's Office changes morgue policy.
Winnebago County Coroner's Office changes morgue policy.(WIFR)
Published: Nov. 8, 2021 at 6:14 PM CST
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - Overcrowded morgues could be a problem for at least one area hospital as the Winnebago County Coroner’s Office changes its policy on holding unclaimed bodies.

UW Health - SwedishAmerican Hospital often needs help storing unclaimed bodies and turns to the coroner’s office. But starting Jan. 1, 2022, it will need to rely more on local funeral homes or figure out another option.

“Their morgue only holds two people in the refrigeration unit so they’re calling funeral homes to come get the body right away,” said Tim Honquest, owner and founder of Honquest Funeral Home.

Honquest is in touch with area hospitals daily.

“The problem that they’re running into is if the family hasn’t made their selection on a funeral provider, then the body has to go to the morgue,” Honquest said.

And Honquest said, time is of the essence. A decision on storage must be made - quickly.

“Within about three, four hours, something would need to be done, and what they’ve been doing is rotating bodies in and out of the cooler because there’s only two spots. My funeral home has a cooler that fits 12 people. I don’t understand why a hospital doesn’t have that same facility,” Honquest said.

Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana released a statement Monday on behalf of the coroner’s office.

“When there are no questions as to the cause and manner of death, the healthcare facility makes arrangements directly with a funeral home for burial services. The Coroner’s Office and its resources should only transport and store bodies that fall within its jurisdiction of establishing cause and manner of death.”

A spokesperson for the department says these new guidelines will make the coroner’s office more effective and efficient.

Honquest thinks it could spell trouble for some health facilities.

“If they had a cooler or a morgue that was bigger, it would at least alleviate that problem for the county and for the families,” Honquest said.

Dr. Michael Polizzotto with UW Health Rockford agrees that morgue space at SwedishAmerican is limited, but he anticipates this will be an issue with all area hospitals.

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