Space is running out for the Lycoming County coroner. The time for a new building is now, says Charles Kiessling Jr., while county officials say it may be another few years before a new location is found.
“We need to do something soon. This can’s been kicked as far down the road as it can go,” Kiessling said.
Kiessling has been asking for a larger office space for the past 15 years and each year the need grows more dire, he said.
A new building for the coroner is in the works, but it may need to wait until a facility can be purchased to house not only county personnel, but also the city police and fire departments.
County Chief Clerk Matt McDermott said a plan is in place, and the county and city recently looked at a property. However, it may still be a few years before it’s ready to be used.
“We are definitely moving along, as far as working together to find a facility or a space for the joint public safety facility concept,” McDermott said.
McDermott said he understands Kiessling’s dire need, but he added that “right now it’s manageable, it’s not prefered.” He stressed the need to strategically move forward and find a solution that will help all of the departments that are facing space constraints.
Currently, efforts are still underway to gather memorandums of understanding from area partners – including the city, county and UPMC Susquehanna – so a feasibility study can be performed, McDermott said.
Presently, the coroner’s office is on the third floor of the Executive Plaza at 330 Pine St., in Williamsport. His office also shares a morgue facility at the UPMC Susquehanna Regional Medical Center.
“We bring families to identify their loved ones in the basement of the hospital,” said Kate Nickles, deputy coroner “I call it the death hall.”
Nickles urged for funds to be dedicated to the new facility, saying the work of coroners is often overlooked, but still very important.
“I just hope that our county taxpayers understand why we’re looking for a building, why it’s so important,” Nickles said.
As deaths from drug overdoses continue to increase, Kiessling expects the space at the morgue to become more inadequate this year. By the end of January, the county already had five overdose-related deaths, he added.
In addition, space constraints will become all the more prominent after UPMC Susquehanna’s plans to become a Trauma 2 center, Kiessling said. Opening such a center means more serious patients will be brought to the area, some with a higher chance of dying.
“When those people die, it doesn’t matter what county they lived in, it matters where they die,” he said.
The cost and manpower to process the deceased, send them out for an autopsy and get toxicology results are all placed upon the coroner’s office. Kiessling said he has asked for an increase in his budget and will probably need to ask for another one next year.