Coffins with unclaimed bodies due for burial have been discovered stacked atop each other in single shallow grave plots at the Good Hope Cemetery, in what is believed to be a scheme to defraud the Georgetown Public Hospital (GPHC) of funds paid out for their disposal.
In one instance, six wooden boxes containing bodies and small body parts used for testing in post-mortem examinations were stacked in a single plot, which the GPH says is in violation of the contract for disposal. GPHC uses the Good Hope facility to perform “poor burials” and is billed for each grave order, which requires that there should be no more than one box per plot.
GPHC management, which was informed of the situation by Stabroek News, is outraged and has since said that hospital personnel will accompany corpses to the burial site to oversee the process.
After viewing photographs of the shallow graves supplied by Stabroek News, GPHC spokesperson Alero Proctor said that the hospital will seek advice on the next course of action when Chief Executive Officer Michael Khan, who is away, returns. She added that the Occupational Safety and Health Officer of the hospital intends to take the photographs to contractors as early as possible.
“We now have the proof of photographs that the contractors were defrauding the corporation,” Proctor said.
When Stabroek News contacted the Mon Repos Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) on Monday for a comment on the situation, Superintendent Rocky Ramgopaul said that the authority was not aware of the situation. He said that he would have an inspector “go and check it out.” Attempts yesterday to reach Ramgopaul were futile.
A member of the public discovered the situation when he went to the facility to attend a funeral. According to him, he noticed around 10 boxes that appeared to be coffins being offloaded from a truck and upon inquiring, he was told that the boxes were being placed in separate graves.
However, upon further investigating at the site where they dug the graves, he found two shallow graves; one grave with six boxes stacked in two rows, one on top the other; and the other, smaller grave, with two boxes on top each other. “I assume that the last box would have been put on top of the upper box in the smaller grave, making it a stack of three in all,” he explained. He noted also that the boxes are “very close” to the surface.
Realising that they had been caught in a lie, the member of the public said the men who were offloading the boxes from the truck subsequently allowed him to have a peek through the cracks of one of the boxes and explained that it contained body parts from post-mortem examinations. When he asked why the remains were not burnt for sanitary reasons, the men said that it would cost more to do so. While the box may have contained body parts it may have also had a body within.
The member of the public said that a companion spoke with the truck driver, who explained that some of the boxes contained not one, but two bodies. He added that his companion was told that this situation also went on at the Le Repentir Cemetery, but with the graveyard now full, they were now burying the remains at the Good Hope location.
“In mild terms, this is most shocking and macabre,” the member of the public said. “How can we treat our people in this manner? Not to mention the health concerns.”
Proctor noted that the hospital uses the crematorium at Good Hope for ‘poor burials,’ which is usually the result of having unclaimed bodies at its mortuary for over a certain period. Also, specimens for testing during or after autopsies are also disposed of in this manner. These specimens or small body parts, Proctor said, are sent to the GPHC’s Medical Laboratory from hospitals countrywide and it is GPHC’s responsibility to have them disposed of.
A “poor burial” costs $15,000 per grave order, which Proctor noted is half the price of cremating a corpse. The hospital also pays contractors for hardwood and transportation. As of July 31, according to GPHC statistics, the hospital had stood the cost for 23 graves—seven in February; eight in March; and eight in June—at a total cost of $632,500.
According to Proctor, all bodies are carefully wrapped by GPH’s mortuary staff and are individually placed into “rough boxes” for burial, while the small body parts are placed in colour-coded bags—indicating that they are infectious waste—and they are placed together in boxes. Mortuary staff secures the boxes, nailing them shut using close to twenty (20) 3-4” nails, before they are transported
A private entity, Proctor said, is contracted to have the boxes transported to the crematorium and thereafter it is the responsibility of the Sexton to have the burial take place according to the “required standard.”
Proctor noted that there are no sanitary risks involved in burying the bodies and the parts, once the burial is done in accordance with the required standard, which she reiterated is the responsibility of the sexton.
In order to ensure that protocols are being followed and to avoid any occurrence of improper or unsafe practice, Proctor said that the Facilities Management Department of the hospital will in future have a staff member accompany the corpses to the burial site and oversee the process. (Frances Abraham)