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The head of a union representing workers at the Ottawa Hospital says something must be done about the excess of cadavers that has overfilled the hospital’s morgues and led to cadavers being left in unusual places at health-care facilities.

Lou Burri, president of CUPE Local 4000, says his members have walked into conference rooms to find bodies left there until space opened.

He says it first happened last October but has become a growing problem as the hospital’s infrastructure is stretched further beyond capacity.

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The hospital has not yet responded to a request for comment.

“I’ve been talking to senior management at the Ottawa Hospital and they’re not happy that this is going on. They don’t have the money to do anything – it’s all funding, everything’s funding,” Burri said.

“It is a black eye for the Ottawa Hospital, for sure. They strive on being health care leaders and it’s unfortunate this is happening, but maybe this will light a fire on trying to get some stuff resolved for them.”

The Ottawa Hospital has two major campuses and is the largest health institution in the capital. Ottawa’s hospitals conduct autopsies on many people who die in and around the region, and bodies can sit for weeks or longer before they are claimed, if they are claimed at all.

Ontario’s chief coroner reported in June that there were 473 unclaimed bodies in 2018, an increase from the 401 in 2017 that the office attributed to better figures from a centralized tracking system. Figures for 2019 are not yet available.

The claiming process can be relatively fast for someone who dies in hospital – often through a funeral home – but can take longer if an autopsy is required or a body is brought in from the surrounding community.

“Usually people claim – the families and others claim the body soon after the autopsy is completed,” said Dr. Louise McNaughton-Filion, the regional supervising coroner in Ottawa.

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“And there is the other group where somebody passes away in the community and the body has to be stored until family is found, or next-of-kin is found.”

A difficult search for a next-of-kin involves police and checks of financial records required under provincial law.

In the meantime, the unclaimed bodies take up space for cadavers that are already in the hospital and waiting to be brought down to the morgue. McNaughton-Filion said each hospital usually has its own morgue, but the type can vary.

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