ANDERSON — Madison County is purchasing a refrigerated trailer to serve as a temporary morgue.

The County Commissioners on Tuesday approved the purchase of the refrigerated cooler from Polar King at a cost of $16,509. The cooler is being paid for through the county’s share of federal COVID-19 funding.

Earlier this month, the commissioners approved an emergency declaration for the rental of a cooler to serve as a temporary morgue.

Ascension St. Vincent Anderson had rented a cooler, but it was removed after Moore Advanced Services Group learned it was being used to store bodies.

Madison County secured a temporary cooler from the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, with the county responsible for the fuel costs.

Commissioner John Richwine said the purchased cooler will be delivered within the next three to four weeks, and the monthly payment is $3,500.

Tom Ecker, director of the Madison County Emergency Management Agency, said the cooler has been refurbished and has a new compressor and backup generator.

The storage of bodies has been a point of contention between Coroner Dr. Troy Abbott and other elected officials because of a dispute about the need for a permanent morgue.

Abbott has said the county needed a morgue and rooms for autopsies at an estimated cost of $1.2 million.

“There is more than sufficient morgue space at the hospitals,” Richwine said. “(The cooler being purchased) is for the potential need for morgue space.”

Chief Deputy Coroner Katherine Callahan said the coroner’s office is taking the overflow from the hospital morgue to the temporary cooler.

“This is a (new) permanent cooler,” Richwine said. “We will have it for a long period of time.”

Callahan said there was a failure by the commissioners to communicate with the coroner’s office.

“I disagree,” Richwine said.

Ecker said there was a meeting with Abbott and County Administrator Dan Dykes 10 days ago to discuss the purchase of the permanent cooler.

Commissioner Kelly Gaskill said county officials need to be on the same page, and the disagreements have to end.

Callahan said the coroner’s office was using the cooler to lighten the load on the morgues in the hospitals.

“We need to look at how many bodies it will hold,” she said. “It has to have shelving and a lift.”

Abbot said he received no emails about the purchase of anything.

When asked by Gaskill, Abbott said the purchase was a reasonable quick fix.

“We need a morgue in this county,” he said. “This is a good temporary fix, not a permanent fix.”

Richwine said there has been communication with the coroner’s office.

“We’re all here to work together,” he said. “There is frustration all the way around. Look in the mirror.”

Follow Ken de la Bastide on Twitter @KendelaBastide, or call 765-640-4863.

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Senior Reporter covering Anderson and Madison County government, politics and auto racing for The Herald Bulletin. Has been working as a journalist in central Indiana since 1977.