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CWU Employee Volunteers to Help New York Medical Examiner With Pandemic

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Simpson (right) in personal protective equipment while working for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in support of the Grand Princess cruise ship quarantine in March at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, in California. In the photo with Simpson is fellow HHS volunteer Elisha Sorum. Central Washington University employee Bruce Simpson saw the impact the COVID-19 pandemic was having on New York City and wanted to help.

That’s what motivated Simpson, a career services employer outreach liaison at CWU, who also serves as a medicolegal (medical-legal) death investigator for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to recently spend two weeks as a volunteer supporting the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner.

He was part of the 60-member Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team, which helped with the additional temporary morgues needed around the city to handle the increasing number of COVID-19-related deaths.

“It was mentally exhausting,” Simpson admitted, noting the 13-hour-long work days to ensure positive identification of decedents and their authorized releases to funeral homes. “It was obviously exhausting to deal with all of fatalities. But everyone on the team also found it fatiguing to have to keep in mind to do all that we needed to do to stay clean in New York during the times when we weren’t working and were out of our PPE (personal protective equipment). We were obviously concerned about the invisible threat we knew was all around us.”

Fortunately, each team member tested negative both before and after their service. Simpson says they all viewed their difficult mission as the way they could be most helpful during the pandemic.

Simpson’s first experiences in the field came during his time in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and the Washington Air National Guard. They were in other infamous situations, including the Oso landslide in Western Washington, the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, and the 9-11 Pentagon attack.

“In any kind of mass-casualty event, family members deserve to have their loved ones treated with dignity and respect, and in a professional and timely manner throughout the recovery, identification, and release processes,” he added. “It’s stressful and challenging for families, especially during a time like this, which we have never seen before in our lifetime. Ultimately, this type of mission helps reduce panic and chaos during periods of stress, so I think that makes it a worthwhile endeavor.”

For two weeks prior to his work in New York, Simpson also served in a similar capacity in support of the Grand Princess cruise ship quarantine at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, in San Diego, California.

“It probably goes without saying that it’s good to be back,” he acknowledged. “Ellensburg is unbelievably relaxing by comparison.”

Media contact: Robert Lowery, Public Affairs, 509-899-0235, Robert.Lowery@cwu.edu

Photo: Simpson (right) in personal protective equipment while working for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in support of the Grand Princess cruise ship quarantine in March at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, in California. In the photo with Simpson is fellow HHS volunteer Elisha Sorum.

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