Watauga Medical Center

The Area Health Education Center wing of the Watauga Medical Center, shown here, houses offices and an auditorium for the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System.

BOONE – The Watauga County Commissioners approved a contract with Appalachian Regional Healthcare System on March 5 to expand space at Watauga Medical Center to store unclaimed bodies.

“Due to a combination of factors, including our population growth over time, increased needs for space capacity for our hospital and the need for a separate dedicated space for our local medical examiners, we have expanded our partnership to help meet the needs of Watauga County to have more space for our trained medical examiners,” Watauga County Manager Deron Geouque said. “This agreement not only supports that need but it also helps address the additional space need that our hospital needs to best meet their patient needs.”

The original request came in January from Watauga County Sheriff Len Hagaman, who said the county needs the space in relation to investigations.

According to state statute, counties are required to provide or contract for an appropriate facility for the examination and storage of bodies under the medical examiner’s jurisdiction. Also, under certain circumstances, the county is responsible for the final disposition of unclaimed or abandoned bodies, according to the meeting materials.

The county will assume the costs of maintaining the body storage cooler. Geouque said at the March 5 meeting that a budget amendment for the amount of the cooler will come at a future meeting, but the upfront costs will be approximately $20,000-$25,000.

Geouque said that Watauga County is fortunate to have Watauga Medical Center donate the additional space, saying other counties have had to buy land and build their own body storage facilities at great expense. Geouque also noted that the county has had a “long-standing partnership” with ARHS in supporting storage of decedents.

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