DETROIT – Another person spoke with the Local 4 Defenders to share a horror story about how her loved one’s body was treated at the Wayne County morgue.
“I couldn’t say goodbye to her,” Cathy Somers said. “Her kids couldn’t say goodbye to her.”
Somers said it’s still hard to talk about what happened to her daughter, Paula Kudla, inside the Wayne County morgue.
“How do you feel they are running this place?” Local 4 Defender Karen Drew asked.
“Not well,” Somers said.
Kudla was 37 years old and battled drug addiction, her mother said. She lost her fight on June 26. Kudla’s body was brought to the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office. Somers said when her daughter was delivered to the funeral home 11 days later, the funeral director told her there was no way she could have an open casket.
“He said, ‘Absolutely not,’” Somers said. “I said, ‘Why is that?’ He said, ‘Well, she had maggots in her mouth.’”
“She had maggots in her mouth?” Karen asked.
“Yep,” Somers said. “My sister called and said, ‘Why didn’t they have her in a freezer?’”
“Did you get any answers?” Karen asked.
“No,” Somers said.
Who runs the morgue?
The Defenders did some digging into how the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office is run. We obtained a contract that shows Wayne County is paying $31 million to the regents of the University of Michigan, or the University of Michigan Health System, to provide professional and operational services for five years to run the morgue.
Due to budget cuts and staff shortages, the two came to the agreement years ago.
Medical examiner Dr. Carl Schmidt defends how the morgue is operated.
“I think, overall, it is working very well,” Schmidt said.
The university’s Department of Pathology boasts how it has helped “ease the emotional toll” at the Wayne County morgue, and claims the partnership “also opens up new opportunities for research and discovery.”
Not everyone agrees.
“I am disappointed today,” Wayne County Commissioner Tim Killeen said. “The people who ultimately are responsible for managing this office: U of M.”
The Defenders went to Michigan Medicine to ask for an interview, but nobody was willing to talk on camera about all the cases of people sitting in the morgue for month.
In some instances, people were listed as missing while the morgue told families they didn’t have their bodies. In others, they were left decomposing and decaying.
Michigan Medicine sent out a statement saying, in part, that it has “great sympathy for any family who has experienced a delay in receiving information about a deceased relative or friend at the Wayne County morgue.”
The statement also says that they are working on a recommendation to the county that they hire a full-time employee dedicated to identifying individuals, as well as make other investments to improve operations.
The five-year contract with Michigan Medicine ends September 2022. There seems to be some finger-pointing between the morgue and Michigan Medicine in terms of who is responsible.
The medical examiner’s office hasn’t received any official request from Michigan Medicine for hiring or changes, the Local 4 Defenders have learned.
Wayne County retains oversight of the morgue, however.
The medical examiner will be called in front of the commissioners on Oct. 26 to answer some questions about how the morgue is run. Local 4′s stories will be brought up in that conversation.
Wayne County Commission Charwoman Alisha R. Bell released a statement following Local 4 Defenders’ investigation:
“I am extremely troubled by the recent reporting on Channel 4 news about the Medical Examiner’s office. My sincerest apologies go out to the families of the loved ones that experienced such tragedies while in our care at the morgue. This is totally unacceptable to the families and the exceptions that we have in Wayne County.
“I believe that every person should be treated with respect and dignity in life, and in death, and in the cases reported on Channel 4, we have certainly fallen short. We have launched an audit of the Medical Examiner’s operations and will discuss this matter further at an upcoming Health and Human Services Committee meeting.”Alisha R. Bell, Wayne County Commission Chair