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Ask Us: Why did Rowan Medical Center bring in temporary morgue trailer?

Editor’s note: Ask Us is a weekly feature published online Mondays and in print on Tuesdays. We’ll seek to answer your questions about items or trends in Rowan County. Have a question? Email it to askus@salisburypost.com.

Novant Health says it brought a refrigerated trailer to Rowan Medical Center to hold bodies while both morgues in the facility are out of service.

Readers asked about the purpose of trailer, which sits next to a loading dock, including whether it was brought in because an ongoing COVID-19 surge has filled the hospital’s morgue. Robin Baltimore, a spokesperson for Novant Health, said the trailer is being used as a temporary morgue, but it’s not because the hospital’s facilities are at capacity.

The hospital is cleaning its “upper morgue” and the “lower morgue” is in need of repairs, Baltimore said.

While the trailer is not due to capacity issues, August was the deadliest month for COVID-19 in Rowan County since January. There were more than 30 Rowan County COVID-19 deaths in August. State data show the county with 347 coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic, which ties Rowan with Buncombe County for seventh.

Why are patients being diverted from Rowan Medical Center?

Readers also asked about a practice called “diversion” at Rowan Medical Center, which has led to some patients being redirected elsewhere.

Dr. Larry Weems, chief medical officer at Rowan Medical Center, said the hospital is using the practice because inpatient numbers are at “some of their highest levels since the pandemic started.”

“Redirecting is one lever we are pulling as needed to help manage current capacity,” Weems said. “We continue to closely monitor the data and stand ready to activate additional surge planning scenarios from staffing contingency to the utilization of additional space on our campuses, as necessary.”

He said the decision to redirect patients typically lasts four hours or less after “all additional resources have been exhausted.” It ends when there’s been “sufficient reduction” in emergency department volumes, wait times and people waiting for a hospital bed.

The most recent data reported to federal health authorities by Rowan Medical Center — from late August — shows 186 of 269 inpatient beds and 22 of 22 intensive care beds occupied. On Friday, 269 intensive care beds and 1,079 total inpatient beds were available across Rowan County’s region — at 18-county area known as the Triad Healthcare Preparedness Coalition.

Where the patient goes after he or she is directed away from Rowan Medical Center is up to EMS workers, Weems said. Trauma, stroke and cardiac arrest patients are among the exceptions to diversion or redirection.

He said diversion or redirection is a standard health care industry practice, but it hasn’t usually been needed at Rowan Medical Center.

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