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Posted on Mon, Jul 27, 2009 : 9:54 a.m.

University of Michigan Medical Center's revamped morgue boasts safety, education and reduced odors

By Tina Reed

With gleaming white walls and four sparkling stainless steel autopsy workstations, the morgue at the University of Michigan has undergone a facelift that was completed last week.

Just days ago, workers were putting the final touches on the newly refurbished morgue, a brightly-lit collection of rooms buried in the basement of the U-M Medical Center.

In recent days, electric work was completed on the walk-in refrigerators, which now boast double the storage space for bodies. Now twice as many autopsies can be completed at one time.

"It will provide an increase in the regional capacity for disasters and other situations where there might be an increased demand for body storage," said Jeffrey Jentzen, U-M’s director of autopsy and forensic services. The revamped autopsy and body storage areas offer the morgue better ability to handle large “disasters,” and better cooperation with the local medical examiner, he said.

The project, which cost $1.35 million, was created in partnership with the Washtenaw County Medical Examiner’s office, which contributed $250,000. Officials tout it as offering better opportunities to teach students, who will now be able to observe medical-examiner-directed autopsies.

Up to 600 cases per year can be conducted in the new morgue, Jentzen said.

The updates included structural changes, such as improved air systems to control the spread of infectious diseases and odors. They also included removal of the crypt-style drawers where bodies were stored while awaiting pickup by funeral directors.

One of the most marked changes is an observation room that allows students or police to view an autopsy.

It reduces the risk of injury for the person performing the autopsy. That individual could be using sharp instruments such as body saws and previously could have been disrupted by observers asking questions or fainting from the odor, French said.

"I think ... what gets everyone is the smell, not the sight … and then they go down," French said. "I'm hoping this will eliminate that process. We'll see what happens."

Tina Reed covers health and the environment for Reach her at 723-623-2535 or


Matt Hampel

Mon, Jul 27, 2009 : 11:51 a.m.

Great article, even if I feel morbid for enjoying it. I love getting a look into places that aren't usually open to the public.


Mon, Jul 27, 2009 : 10:38 a.m.

Having worked 11 years on the medical campus and having to go to the morgue to harvest parts(yes parts is parts and I intend to donate my body upon expiration)...this expansion is welcomed. I know this morgue seems "old" should have seen the morgue before the uprade 20 years ago, it looked like something between a medival torture chamber and meat locker...I jest pun intended..:)

Laura Bien

Mon, Jul 27, 2009 : 10:28 a.m.

The morgue is an inherently interesting place because almost none of us ever see it and because people love the macabre. An original story about a typical day at the morgue ("Just Another Day at the U-M Morgue") and the cases they deal with daily, or a story that follows one body through the morgue, detailing the medical procedures the experts at U-M follow on a typical case, would be fascinating. I for one would love a peek into such a specialized world; just my 2 cents.

Tina Reed

Mon, Jul 27, 2009 : 10:01 a.m.

Laura - I visited the morgue and wrote the story from facts gathered there as well as from information provided by U-M. Check out the video tour we posted with the story. The finishing touches were still being completed when it was filmed, but it gives you a bit of an idea of what things look like in there.

Laura Bien

Mon, Jul 27, 2009 : 9:54 a.m.

A news story based on a U-M press release?