Murfreesboro is now the sixth-largest city in Tennessee, however, it has no morgue of its own. Anyone dying from a drug overdose, suicide, in a fire or any type of suspicious or unattended death is required to have an autopsy. This means that these bodies must be transported to Nashville, and if they must be stored for any time, the county must depend upon the hospitals.
While there has been talk of Murfreesboro having its own morgue for some time now, the County Commission earlier this year voted to move forward with their intention to buy the old State Farm building on Memorial and turn it into a Forensic Center, Dispatch Center and Morgue.
According to Rutherford County EMS Director Carl Hudgins, the county currently spends close to $700,000 per year to the morgue in Nashville to determine the cause of many deaths in the county. For that amount, Hudgins says the county can pay for two pathologists which would allow Murfreesboro to serve as a regional pathology center for counties to the south and east, so they too do not have to go to Nashville.
“If a patient dies in Rutherford County,” explained Hudgins, “it is our problem. Even if it is in Cannon, Coffee or Warren Counties, our ambulance service transports the body to Nashville.”
Deaths from drug overdoses is on the rise, worse than Hudgins has ever seen, and he has been with Rutherford County EMS since 1988. He says they will continue to rise during the holidays. A regional forensic center means that his staff will be able to stay closer to home, as each of these deaths means more trips to Nashville. Which means there will be more on hand for local emergencies. They responded to 3,700 calls in September.
Hudgins works hard for his staff of more than 150, including 114 paramedics and emergency medical technicians. Recently he was able to get their schedules changed from 24 hours on and 48 hours off to 24 on and 72 off. With the pandemic, his staff was wearing out and this change has made it easier for them to find some work/life balance, which makes them more effective when on the job.
“I think this vote is going to change the system across the state,” said Hudgins. “Currently, we are the only ones doing it thanks to the team work with the county.”
With more than 30 years with the EMS, Hudgins knows what is it like working out there with the public. He remembers when there were only three ambulances in the whole county. Now there are 14. The county EMS service didn’t exist until 1972, until then it was run by the funeral homes.
“Whoever got their first got paid,” said Hudgins. “I know because my mother’s brother used to do it. He lived above Woodfins and he’d drive the hearse to the scene. If a person made it to the hospital, then they were likely to live because it was a rough ride. There was no trained medical staff caring for them.”
After the mortuaries, the service was taken over by the hospital. Finally, the county took it over.
Besides emergency services, three years ago Rutherford County EMS began a Convalescent Division. This division provides non-emergency patient transportation for health-related movement from their homes or senior facility to doctor’s appointments, dialysis, hospital discharges, and hospice care.
“I am so proud of what we have,” said Hudgins. “It has come a long way, and it gives me a safe feeling. I feel a sense of security.”