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Partnership Yields New Morgue for Douglas County 10/31/18  10/31/18 12:48:46 PM Printer Friendly VersionPrinter Friendly Version

An artist’s rendering of the new Nebraska Organ Recovery building at 39th and Leavenworth Streets that is scheduled for completion at the end of the year. It will also house the new Douglas County morgue. (Courtesy Nebraska Organ Recovery)

Partnership Yields New Morgue for Douglas County
By Scott Stewart
The Daily Record

Death and taxes are said to be the world’s only certainties.
Perhaps that’s why it’s surprising
that Douglas County won’t be on the hook for a new morgue, which will double the county’s capacity
and bring it to a new state-of-the-art facility in early 2019.
Nebraska Organ Recovery, a federally designated organ procurement
organization serving all of Nebraska and Pottawattamie County in Iowa, will welcome Douglas County pathologists into its new building at 39th and Leavenworth streets.
“We have a really close partnership
and working relationship with the pathologists that do the autopsies,” said Kyle Herber, president and CEO of Nebraska Organ Recovery. “As we began exploring a new facility, it really made sense to look at how we could operate a little bit closer.”
A morgue and autopsy suite will allow investigators to cooperate
more closely with organ and tissue recovery staff, avoiding the time and expense of transporting a body across town. Opportunities for training and other collaboration
may also arise from sharing offices across Leavenworth Street from the University of Nebraska Medical Center campus.
The county’s space will be leased using proceeds from existing
fees charged to other jurisdictions
that use Douglas County’s autopsy facilities, effectively shifting the cost from Douglas County taxpayers while not raising
the costs for other jurisdictions.
The county morgue will move from its existing space in the basement of the Douglas County Hospital at 42nd and Woolworth streets.
“The facility is far from being state of the art,” said Don Kleine, talking about the current coroner’s facility. “It’s an antiquated facility,
and we were just lacking.”
Kleine, who oversees the county
coroner’s office in his role as county attorney, said he’s worked with Nebraska Organ Recovery for years. He said forensic pathologists
will often want to keep a body from being disturbed, but there are protocols in place to allow
organ donation as often as possible when that was the desire of the deceased person.
“These are very, very emotionally
sad, horrible situations when people lose a loved one,” Kleine said. “We want to make sure that, in those kind of situations, when the family wanted their loved one to be an organ donor, that we could make that work.”
The cooperative relationship with the county led the nonprofit to suggest a public-private partnership
a couple years ago when the organization began exploring a new location. Nebraska Organ Recovery is currently based out of offices at 8502 West Center Road, and Herber said there was a desire to move closer to Nebraska Medicine’s Nebraska Medical Center on the UNMC campus.
“Our staff is constantly over there working both organ and tissue donations,” Herber said. “They’re really our No. 1 customer.
They’re our largest donor hospital.”
Nebraska Organ Recovery’s new $8.5 million building is essentially
an extension of the med center campus. Kiewit is the contractor
for the building, which was designed by DLR Group.
The new space will allow the nonprofit to more easily recover tissue – such as eyes, heart valves, skin, veins and bones – in an on-site operating room, while organ donations take place in hospital settings.
In other states, it’s common for organ recovery services to operate
in medical examiner offices, Herber said. This project will flip that relationship – bringing those county services into a nonprofit’s building.
“We wanted to model something
here along those same lines,” he said.
The new county morgue will have a cooler with space for 20 bodies, double the current capacity.
Bodies will arrive through a garage, with transportation typically
handled by a funeral home. The Nebraska Organ Recovery and Douglas County medical spaces are physically separate and accessible through separate doors. Office space in the facility will be shared, as well as locker rooms and other amenities.
The current autopsy space limits
Douglas County to one at a time, but the new building will allow for two concurrent autopsies
along with space for a third if needed. Law enforcement officers assigned to observe an autopsy will have a window – instead of having to be inside the operating room – where they currently face the olfactory and auditory realities
of watching the dissection of human remains.
Herber said an evidence lockup
room will allow the county to store tissue samples and other remains that could be needed for prosecutions.
Professionals performing autopsies
will also have access to a shower before going home, a luxury the current facility doesn’t accommodate, he said.
Nebraska Organ Recovery plans to move into the new building
the week after Christmas.
The county expects to follow a few weeks later, once the nonprofit’s
up and running in the space, Kleine said. Both should be permanently
operating in the space in early 2019.
“When we have that kind of ability to work together, I think it’s a very positive thing,” Kleine said. “It will let us have the benefit
of having a brand-new facility
without the cost of the county having to build that brand-new facility.”

Brick work continues on the exterior of the Nebraska Organ Recovery’s new building at 39th and Leavenworth Streets Oct. 26. The new building will also house the Douglas County morgue. (Photo by Scott Stewart)

Kyle Herber, president and CEO of Nebraska Organ Recovery, points out the location of sinks in an autopsy suite for Douglas County as part of a tour of the nonprofit’s new building at 39th and Leavenworth Streets on Oct. 26. (Photo by Scott Stewart)
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