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Unclear Who Transports Dead Bodies on St. John

While the Justice Department said Monday in a press release issued through Government House that Emergency Medical Services would now transport dead bodies on St. John, the Health Department has a different take on the matter.

“You cannot move somebody who is found dead,” the Health Department’s medical director, Dr. Marc Jerome, said Tuesday.

In his directive to EMS staff dated Aug. 19, Jerome wrote that they should continue resuscitation efforts and transport the patient to the nearest emergency room even if the patient remains “asystolyic, apneic and pulseless.” Summing it up, these words mean the patient isn’t showing any signs of life but they should consider them still alive, begin resuscitation and transport them to the emergency room.

He said when EMS responds to a call where they think the person has died, they must call the Police Department or the Justice Department. When asked if the Justice press release was incorrect, Jerome repeatedly said EMS cannot move someone who has died.

Jerome and Health’s spokesman, Astia LeBron, referred questions to Justice and Government House.

The press release from Justice through Government House said that, as of Aug. 19, “the Virgin Islands Department of Health, Emergency Medical Services revised its existing Pre-Hospital Resuscitation Policy, which includes the protocol for the handling of deceased individuals, to allow EMS Units to transport the deceased to the temporary morgue at the Myra Keating Smith Clinic on the island of St. John.”

Chief Deputy Attorney General Wayne Anderson did not return a phone call requesting comment.

Government House spokesman Jean Greaux said he was only the conduit for distributing the press release.

St. John Rescue chief training officer Bob Malacarne appeared quite surprised to learn that Justice indicated EMS now had the authority to transport dead bodies from where they died to Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center. “Really? This is the first I’ve heard of it,” Malacarne said.

On Sept. 18, St. John Rescue stopped picking up and transporting dead bodies from where they died to Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center morgue because St. John Rescue was unable to get a contract from the Justice Department outlining its protocol.

Malacarne said the long-awaited contract finally arrived Friday, but the 18-page document has issues that need to be resolved before it can be finalized. He said one of the issues concerns the request that St. John Rescue transport bodies all the way to the morgue at Roy L. Schneider Hospital.

“And it’s not clear if we’ll get reimbursed,” Malacarne said.

He said there are other issues in the contract that need discussion and the St. John Rescue members plan to do so at their meeting Thursday.

The job of transporting dead bodies belongs to the medical examiner’s office but St. John Rescue assumed responsibility in 2006 because the medical examiner’s part-time employee on St. John retired.

When Government House sent out a press release Sept. 23 announcing that the medical examiner’s office would transport dead bodies because St. John Rescue refused, it didn’t address its inability to pick up bodies after the barges stop running in the early evening. This meant that bodies would have to remain where they died until someone from the medical examiner’s office arrived after the barges started running the next morning.

The Monday press release also indicates that V.I. National Park offered the use of one of its boats to transport dead bodies to St. Thomas. Park Superintendent Brion FitzGerald could not be reached for comment.

Malacarne said that since St. John Rescue stopped transporting dead bodies on Sept. 18, there have been none to be picked up.

“But there are lots of elderly people who are sick,” he said, alluding to the fact that the need could arise at any time.

He said St. John Rescue typically does about 10 such transports a year.

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