The Maryland Anatomy Board has won two exemptions from the state's 6-week-old hiring freeze, allowing it to hire an embalmer and ending a 3-week-old crisis that had forced the cremation of two dozen corpses donated for medical training.
"The donor program is at this point no longer in jeopardy," said board administrator Ronald Wade. "Bodies donated for medical study will be utilized to the greatest degree we can."
The state Department of Budget and Fiscal Planning notified the board yesterday that it had been granted two exemptions from the 6-week-old state hiring freeze.
Wade said one exemption will allow the board to enter into a contract with at least one part-time embalmer, who will help Wade process unclaimed and donated bodies for use by Maryland medical and dental schools and for surgical training programs.
Wade said an embalmer could be on the job as early as today at the anatomy board's laboratory in the 600 block of W. Baltimore St.
The second exemption allows the board to extend the employment of a temporary secretary until a permanent replacement can be found. The secretary's current contract was due to expire Oct. 16.
The board's problems began Sept. 17 when its regular embalmer suffered a heart attack. Because of the hiring freeze imposed by the governor on Aug. 31, no replacement could be hired.
Board Chairman Michael N. Sheridan warned Adele Wilzack, secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, that the situation posed "an immediate health problem," and eventually won the department's support for the exemption as a matter of "the highest priority."
While health officials waited for action by Budget Secretary Charles L. Benton Jr., however, unclaimed and donated bodies continued to arrive at the board's lab faster than they could be processed.
With donated help, Wade managed to prepare some bodies for medical study, and shipped 36 to Johns Hopkins Hospital. But others deteriorated before they could be embalmed and preserved. They had to be boxed and sent to a crematorium.
"We sent eight more to the crematory today. . . . There are more down the hall," Wade said yesterday. "Altogether . . . we lost about 24 because of this situation. It's a significant loss."
The board receives about 65 unclaimed and donated bodies a month, and is expecting nearly 800 in all this year.
Some training programs normally conducted at the anatomy board's labs had to be canceled in recent weeks, and maintenance suffered. Wade is hoping now to hire a laboratory maintenance service to help scrub the place down.
"The embalmer needs to maintain an aseptic area to work in," he said.