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Syracuse residents say county policy prevents them from seeing recently deceased loved ones

Ellen Abbott
Syracuse resident Joanne Stevens spoke to Onondaga County lawmakers Tuesday, urging them to change a policy that prevents the visitation of a deceased loved one

Community activists in Syracuse are calling on Onondaga County to make changes in policies that prevent family members from seeing deceased loved ones at the medical examiner’s office in a timely manner. This often involves who are pronounced dead at a crime scene, instead of a hospital.

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO News
Syracuse Common Councilor Helen Hudson often has to call Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney to get permission for families to see recently deceased loved ones at the county Medical Examiner's office.

Helen Hudson, a Syracuse Common Councilor and founder of Mothers Against Gun Violence, says she often gets the calls early in the morning. Someone’s been killed on the streets of Syracuse and family members want to see the body, but are told they can’t go into the medical examiner’s office because it’s part of a crime scene. That starts several hours of phone tag between Hudson and Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney, who pulls the strings that allow families in the medical examiner’s office to view the body.

“Every time I call, she’s been good,” said Hudson. “She gets me in. But it just takes so long. That family should not have to go through that stress for 9 or 10 hours. They’re going through the worst time of their lives already. Don’t add an extra burden on them.”

Hudson says she’s been trying to get new policies in place for a year, and says the county executive’s office is looking at it. She pleaded with county lawmakers Tuesday to approve a policy to allow entrance to the morgue within four hours of notification of a death.

But Hudson believes it’s these kinds of rules that breed tension between authorities and community members.

"These little policies are part of the reason people distrust government,” she said.

Syracuse resident Joanne Stevens, who also asked county lawmakers to change the visitation policy, goes even further.

"I feel like it’s because we’re black,” said Stevens. “And I feel like they feel like we’re not important.   Well, we have to make them know we are important.  And things have to change. Things have to change.”

WRVO has reached out to County Executive Joanie Mahoney’s office for comment. 

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.