NEOSHO, Mo. — Acting at the request of area hospitals, the Newton County Commission will purchase a mobile morgue in order to prepare for a demand on resources.

The commission is expected to discuss details about the mobile morgue, including the price, during a business meeting scheduled for Wednesday. It will be paid for with funds allocated to the county through the federal CARES Act, passed earlier this year.

"We felt like this would be good for the area," Presiding Commissioner Bill Reiboldt said. "We've been told by hospitals that we could have a real issue and that we should consider doing something. This was something that we thought could be helpful to Jasper and Newton counties."

Officials with Freeman Health System and Mercy Hospital Joplin have sounded an alarm about the demand for hospital services in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, stating that the availability of services in larger metro areas such as Springfield and Kansas City has become limited.

In a joint letter to cities, leaders with the hospitals said they are concerned about an increased number of hospitalizations because of the addition of COVID-19 patients to the normal demand created by other illnesses.

That concern extends to the hospital's ability to properly secure the bodies of patients who die while hospitalized, Reiboldt said. The mobile morgue will be a pull-type trailer capable of holding up to 24 bodies.

"This is more about preparation than response right now," Reiboldt said. "We're in an area where people from Oklahoma and Kansas come to the Joplin area for treatment."

A trailer such as this is something the county has been interested in for a while, Reiboldt said, in order to help handle emergencies such as the 2011 tornado where mutual aid from other jurisdictions is sought.

In the joint letter, hospital leaders said the area was currently "in a public health care crisis." On Tuesday afternoon, the death count of the pandemic among the city of Joplin and Jasper and Newton counties reached 161 — the same number of people who died in the 2011 tornado.

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Joe Hadsall is the digital editor for The Joplin Globe. He has been the editor of the former Nixa News-Enterprise and has worked for the Christian County Headliner News and 417 Magazine.