Investigation finds wide range of serious mistakes, mismanagement at Wayne County Morgue

Local 4 began investigation issues at morgue last year

A 65-page review of the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office has been released nearly a year after Local 4 began investigating mistakes at the morgue. Thousands of staff hours were put in by the Michigan Office of the Auditor General as they investigated mistakes and mismanagement at the morgue from Oct. 1, 2019, through April 30, 2022. The audit cites 50 findings and 30 recommendations.

WAYNE COUNTY, Mich. – A 65-page review of the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office has been released nearly a year after Local 4 began investigating mistakes at the morgue.

Thousands of staff hours were put in by the Michigan Office of the Auditor General as they investigated mistakes and mismanagement at the morgue from Oct. 1, 2019, through April 30, 2022. The audit cites 50 findings and 30 recommendations.

Local 4′s Karen Drew began investigating nearly a year ago when she shared the story of a family who found a missing woman’s body had been at the Wayne County morgue for seven months before it was cremated without their knowledge.

That family was not alone. There were several others with similar experiences. The family of a 59-year-old man found dead in Detroit searched for him for 17 months while his body sat in the morgue with identification on him. Another family’s loved one sat in the morgue decomposing for 22 days. That family sued and did receive an apology from Schmidt.

In another case, a woman said her daughter’s body was delivered to the funeral home with maggots in her mouth. She had only been at the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office for around 11 days. Her mother could not have an open casket funeral.

There are other cases where a body was left in the morgue for long periods of time, unidentified, even though the deceased had identification on them. There was also an incident where police were searching for a murder suspect who had been in the morgue for two months. You can read every report we have on the mistakes at the Wayne County morgue by clicking here.

What does the report reveal about the morgue?

The report uncovers some serious mistakes and mismanagement inside the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office.

According to the report, the facility was not adequately maintained. An inspection in December 2021 revealed that the facility itself was not structurally sound and needed repairs. It also said the heating and cooling systems were not very effective, which county impact the daily operations of the office.

“According to MEO management, the current facility is in a state of major disrepair,” the report reads.

Another issue at the facility were drops in water pressure, which affect the performance of autopsies. The report mentioned an incident between June 26, 2021, and June 28, 2021, in which a loss of power increased the cooler temperature which affected the condition of decedents.

In October 2021, a contract was executed for architectural and design services that would cost $526,000. The total cost of renovations and improvements was estimated to range from $4.2 million to $4.8 million. During renovations, operations would have to be moved to the Wayne State Mortuary Science Facility and would require six or seven refrigerated trucks.

Auditors also found that while 11 pathologists were required, the office only had seven. Two of those seven were not board certified at the time of the investigation. It also found 27 instances where there was no check-in date for a body and in some cases, the check-in date was input almost a year late.

Other missing information included which funeral home the body was sent to. The audit also exposed delays in cremation permits, something area funeral directors have voiced issues with. The audit said the morgue’s average was slow, around 3 to 4 days, while other offices’ turnaround for cremation permits was just a few hours.

Wayne County Commissioners have asked for a corrective action plan to be sent to them in 30 days. They said they have to do better in oversight and will have to have a discussion about funding. Just getting the morgue up-to-date with working refrigeration and building maintenance is expected to cost nearly $4 million.

Read: Michigan Medicine will no longer run Wayne County Morgue after Local 4 exposes long list of issues

View the performance audit below


Read: More mistakes in the morgue coverage


Have a case you’d like us to look into? Reach the Local 4 investigative team at 313-962-9348, or email Karen Drew at kdrew@wdiv.com.


About the Authors:

Karen Drew is the anchor of Local 4 News First at 4, weekdays at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. She is also an award-winning investigative reporter.

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.