Skip to content

Looking back: Morgue move was smart decision

It’s been more than a year since BJC HealthCare donated a vacated medical building across the street from the now-closed Mineral Area Regional Health Center in Farmington primarily for use by St. Francois County as a county morgue.

Now called the Weber Road Facility, St. Francois County Presiding Commissioner Harold Gallaher believes the building’s gift was a boon not only for the county, but for 20 other counties throughout southeast Missouri.

“We still get all the cases we were getting before,” he said. “It was a private service before. The county didn’t have a morgue before we moved into this facility. When I came on board, one of the first extreme demands was to save our morgue, because if we didn’t we were going to have to join 20 other counties and go to Saint Louis University Hospital, which is already overloaded.

“Just last year they raised their prices because they were so overloaded. They are backed up weeks getting death certificates out. Families can’t do anything with financial planning, with the assets, with any of that until they get the death certificate. That was a major drive. We worked with all these other counties from here all the way to the Arkansas line.

“We worked with all of them, and the Southeast Missouri Regional Planning Commission.”

According to Gallaher, it fell on the shoulders of St. Francois County to provide a regional morgue.

“It’s two trips to the morgue for every autopsy — delivery and pick up,” he said. “And then you sometimes have a person waiting to get everything lined out. Then you have the expense of the higher cost of the autopsy, as well as the inconvenience to the family. So, we really wanted to keep it here. There was no funding set up for a new morgue.

“We did a basic sketch of what we thought we would need. If we built it, we would build it behind the jail on our 20 acres out there. With the prevailing wage law it was going to cost us a million dollars to build. I started looking at real estate. I did a lot of aerial searches on the computer. I’d look at the real estate ads and find a building for sale and I’d go on the computer and look at it.

“I drove to many of them. Peeked into windows and called a few real estate agents. Nothing that would work. Nothing that was in the price range. Nothing at all. I finally found that the building we now own was listed for $660,000. It was huge — 26,000 square feet — and we needed 4,000 square feet, but it was less than the million dollars we would have spent. I thought, ‘Well, it’s a shot.’”

In the process of purchasing the building, BJC ended up donating the building to the county. It cost St. Francois County nothing except for $5,000 in acquisition costs and legal fee expenses.

“We built the morgue in the back of that. Before the morgue was a service provided by Dr. Russell Deidiker, and before him Dr. Michael Zaricor. It’s a private company. Mineral Area Regional was offering space and equipment for that purpose.

“We got the building and converted the back wing into the morgue and sealed it off. It’s air sealed. There’s no air transferred between it and the rest of the building. But I still had 22,000 square feet of building. Although we didn’t have a purpose for it at that time, we thought, ‘Well, we have to maintain it. It’s going to cost us to keep it from freezing and whatever.

“Obviously, the choice came to rent out enough of the 26,000 square foot building to pay for the cost of maintenance of the building and keeping it up. And then put space from these other buildings — like we were very much overloaded at the courthouse and at the Juvenile Detention Center, so we moved some of those out there.

“So, we use about half of the 22,000 square feet for our purposes of the county just to relieve space everywhere else, and then we rented out about 11,000 square feet. We generated enough income from that rental and from savings from the Public Defenders Office that we pay for all the operation of the building, so we can maintain it as we go.

“Renters (could) eventually go away. Every time a renter decides to do something else — to go someplace else or whatever — we’ll evaluate the space they’re using and see if we need to move space from somewhere else to that or if we want to re-rent it and maintain it for future use.”

Gallaher estimates the county won’t have to build any additional office space for decades because of having the space available at the Weber Road Facility and the choice of whether or not to rent it or use it as needed.

“Now, as far as the morgue, we are following the pattern of the hospital at present,” he said. “The morgue company pays us per body that they autopsy in the system. To set it up we created a morgue department to maintain it.

“The key was to save the morgue for us and the other counties (in the region). If these other counties had gone to St. Louis (for services) they would have been swarmed. There’s no way they could have done it, so we basically saved this part of the state of Missouri on the situation. It was critical that we got this built.”

“The morgue company pays us per body that they autopsy in the system.” — Presiding Commissioner Harold Gallaher

Almost a year and a half ago, BJC HealthCare donated a former medical building across the street from the former Mineral Area Regional Medical Center in Farmington. The building is the home of the St. Francois County morgue, as well as rental space for county offices, private companies and public agencies.

Almost a year and a half ago, BJC HealthCare donated a former medical building across the street from the former Mineral Area Regional Medical Center in Farmington. The building is the home of the St. Francois County morgue, as well as rental space for county offices, private companies and public agencies.

Dana Shuh is the St. Francois County morgue director.

Dana Shuh is the St. Francois County morgue director.

Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or kjenkins@dailyjournalonline.com

Leave a Comment