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Elizabethtown morgue prepares to help Baptist Health Hardin hospital as COVID surges

Baptist Health Hardin officials reported a nearly full-ICU, saying conditions are critical. The county coroner is on standby in case the hospital's morgue fills.

ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. — Hospitals across Kentucky are filling up, including Baptist Health Hardin. Officials said Thursday that COVID cases in the Elizabethtown hospital are surging.

The Hardin County Coroner’s Office is preparing to help, asked to stand by  with a refrigerated truck in case the hospital’s small morgue fills up.

Already, the county’s own eight-person morgue is full, though not with any COVID patients.

"We were full," deputy coroner Shana Norton said. "We were at max capacity. We couldn't take anymore."

Norton is used to filling up. She said one or two deaths make a big difference to capacity.

Now, the county is facing a new challenge. Norton is waiting to potentially help Baptist Health Hardin with a mobile morgue in case the hospital’s space becomes overcrowded.

"Whether it happens, or it doesn't happen, I think being prepared for it and having the avenues and items that we will need if we got to that point is the best thing,” she said. “And that's what the hospital is doing."

Officials at Baptist Health Hardin are preparing for dire circumstances, as COVID cases surge.

During the Governor's Team Kentucky update Thursday, they warned COVID patients occupy more than a third of hospital beds.

"We are asking in fact we are pleading with every Kentucky and please get vaccinated,” hospital president and CEO Dennis Johnson said.

Doctors also said they're using ventilators and oxygen at alarming rates.

In the ICU, 18 out of 20 beds are full. Officials said elective procedures requiring an overnight stay have been postponed.

The crowding problem is different at the coroner's office.

"We are full," Norton said. "But we are full because of unrelated COVID things."

The deputy coroner said overdose deaths are to blame. The office is also holding several spaces for funeral homes.

RELATED: Report: Pandemic a role in Kentucky's record overdose deaths

In a county the size of Hardin, deaths at Baptist, COVID related or not, could bring all hands on board.

"It's kind of like a trickle effect. If the hospital has a mass death, these deceased have to go somewhere,” Norton said.

It’s a sobering reality health officials said is straining the health system, and that could mean a return to the early days of the pandemic for Norton.

"We've actually not even seen any cases that are COVID related probably in the last three or four months,” she said.

Norton said the coroner’s office has responded to just a few confirmed-COVID deaths since the pandemic began, since they don’t investigate all deaths.

According to state data, Hardin County has had 175 COVID deaths since the pandemic began.

RELATED: Beshear: Kentucky 'actively considering' mask mandate amid highest positivity rate

RELATED: VERIFY: No, Beshear did not break mask guidelines at the Kentucky State Fair

Contact reporter Grace McKenna at GMcKenna@whas11.com or on Facebook or Twitter. 

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