Typically, an autopsy is completed a day after arriving at the medical examiner’s office, except on weekends, in which case the bodies are examined the following Monday, Happy said.
He told committee members that a fee is necessary because the Iwilei morgue has been running into space issues due to an increased number of cases on Oahu, a situation that forced his agency to pay more than $50,000 last year for outside storage space from private industry.
The morgue has space to store about 60 bodies. At times, when bodies are small enough, two bodies may be stored on a rack side by side. “Obviously we don’t put two decedents on top of each other,” Happy said.
“When those slots become filled, the only thing that we can do is move bodies to a private facility,” Happy said, adding that his department is not budgeted to pay for that.
It’s a situation that is encountered “many times a year,” he said. The average time it takes for a funeral home to retrieve a body after receiving a contract is about 15 days, he said.
The delay in pickup times also has increased in recent years, he said.
The proposed fee is comparable to amounts charged on the mainland, Happy said. San Francisco charges $75 a day, starting three days after the body arrives at the morgue, while Santa Clara County in
California charges $45 a day, starting the day after an autopsy is completed, he said.
Jay Morford, president of the Hawaii Funeral and Cemetery Association, said his organization opposes the bill as now drafted, but is not against a fee for violators and is willing to work with Happy’s office.
All funeral parlors and mortuaries, as well as hospitals, in Hawaii have storage issues, Morford said. Hawaii families are vastly different from those on the mainland and require longer intervals between a death and service due to cultural practices and the length of time it takes for loved ones to schedule time to be in the state for a ceremony, he said.
Morford said the industry has had a positive relationship with Happy’s agency and intends to work cooperatively with him on the bill.