A new $625,000 morgue in the Northern Territory community of Maningrida is “not fit for purpose” because bodies are unable to be placed safely inside it.
“I don’t think it’s usable at the moment,” the chief executive of the Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation, Karl Dyason, told the ABC.
“I imagine the department wouldn’t be prepared to accept any OHS risks that that presents, or to risk bodies falling off trolleys.”
The morgue is one of 20 built or upgraded as part of a $6.2 million Territory and Federal Government program aimed at improving mortuary services in remote communities.
The provision of funding followed years of buck-passing between government agencies, despite bodies rotting in morgues with broken refrigerators, or being stored in courts, kitchens or sheds due to a lack of appropriate facilities.
Photos provided to the ABC show the Maningrida morgue, which was built about a month ago, is much narrower than another recently constructed facility on Elcho Island.
“It is clear from the images provided the morgue is not currently fit for purpose and the defect will be rectified prior to handing over the facility to the Department of Health,” a spokeswoman for the NT Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics said.
She said the issue would be rectified as soon as possible, but could not put a timeframe on it or say how much the repairs would cost.
She said the design error was limited to the Maningrida facility.
Mr Dyason said the morgue was too narrow to allow a worker to safely shift a body from a trolley into one of the refrigerated berths.
“I’m flabbergasted, frankly,” he said.
“The construction of morgues is not a new thing. The department was aware they were going to construct a six-berth morgue in Maningrida.
“They appear to have done it correctly in other communities. To not get it right here is dumbfounding.”
Without a morgue in Maningrida, families have had to send the bodies of deceased loved ones on charter planes to Darwin or Katherine for refrigerated storage prior to funerals on traditional lands.
Mr Dyason said the process can cost many thousands of dollars and the delay in opening the community’s morgue will continue to put financial strain on local families.
“It’s a problem that needs to be rectified urgently,” he said.
“People are passing away each week and the burden that places on people having to get their loved ones out of community and back again is enormous.”