Deaths in Lycoming County more than doubled during the past two years, marking a steep increase and overloading the county morgue, according to Coroner Charles Kiessling Jr.
The death rate has steadily increased over the years, with a substantial jump in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Kiessling.
“As you can see our numbers have doubled over the past two years when compared to the previous years,” Kiessling said.
Accidental and motor vehicle deaths have increased over the past five years, as well as homicides, with the exception of 2021, which saw homicides decrease from 14 to four.
In light of the increases, Kiessling continues to be vocal about his need for a new morgue to process the county’s dead.
He pointed to a 2012 feasibility study that addressed the space constraints of his office, adding he has yet to see the issue addressed by the county commissioners.
“(It’s) very frustrating in year two of the pandemic that is not going away any time soon, along with the increasing numbers of drug deaths, homicides, suicides and accidental deaths,” Kiessling said.
“We are frequently holding decedents for days to weeks while attempting to locate family members,” Kiessling said.
In response to the increase in COVID deaths, in December of 2020, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency delivered a 40-foot Conex refrigerator box to serve as an overflow cooler for the deceased at UPMC Susquehanna Medical Center in Williamsport,where the county morgue also is housed.
In 2020, there were 176 COVID-related deaths recorded, and in 2021 the total COVID deaths increased to 325, according to Kiessling.
Lycoming County is home to five area hospitals, including the new Geisinger facility in Muncy. In addition, UPMC Susquehanna became a Trauma II Center in 2021, resulting in higher trauma cases coming to the county.
“These deceased persons can come from surrounding counties being delivered by ambulance and helicopter,” he said. “If a patient dies from unnatural causes, they must be investigated by my office. In some cases they require toxicology or autopsies to be completed, which must be scheduled in Allentown, requiring me to hold the deceased until completed.”
Total Lycoming County deaths: