Thu | Aug 13, 2020

Regulations key to preventing foul-ups, say funeral directors

Published:Thursday | January 24, 2019 | 12:00 AMJody-Ann Gilpin
The storefront of Michael’s Mortuary and Funeral Services on North Street in Kingston. The service providers allegedly supplied the incorrect body to be buried at a funeral in Manchester on Sunday and cremated the one that should have been sent to that funeral.

Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton has conceded that the Government has been tardy in introducing regulations for the funeral home industry to bring the sector in line with modern standards and practices, but he said it would be a priority for his ministry this calendar year.

“I’m prepared to admit that it (regulations) is overdue, but we are working on it to have it before Parliament earlier than later,” he told The Gleaner yesterday.

His comments come in the wake of a Manchester family lament after an error on the part of an unlicensed funeral home resulted in the wrong body being sent to a funeral on Sunday. The relatives of Sandra Rhone then learned that her body had been cremated earlier in a mix-up at the mortuary where it was being stored.

“The new arrangement will require registration for persons to operate that would include traceability of clients and their loved ones to prevent the risks of what has occurred as in this case,” Tufton said, adding that it would also outline penalties for various breaches.

The regulations can’t come soon enough for at least two funeral operators, who believe that if effective policies and procedures had been implemented, Rhone’s family could have been spared unnecessary anguish.

Calvin Lyn, president of the Jamaica Association of Certified Embalmers and Funeral Directors, said his experience as an operator for close to 45 years has taught him that proper training and standard procedures would reduce errors.

“When you know what to do, and you do it to the utmost best, you will avoid these things. This is not the first time, but it’s just that [in] previous cases, the body was not cremated, so they could have exhumed and reburied it,” he said. “There’s another place in Manchester here that took the wrong body to the church recently, only that it was discovered before the service, and they went and exchanged it.”

Lyn said that the Government should also shoulder some blame for the foul-ups, noting that it is crucial that legislators move with speed to put proper regulations in place.

“In our view, regulations must be in place to operate a funeral home. You ought to be trained and certified in mortuary science and have a proper place established where the storage is up to par, so the ministry has a responsibility,” he said.

Tennyson Cornwall, one of the directors at the House of Tranquillity in Kingston, said this should be a wake-up call to all funeral home operators.

“It is human error because things can happen, but on the other hand, you must have measures in place to ensure that these things don’t happen, but I sympathise with them,” he said.

“The first thing is the body is identified by the family members and then you need to tag and you have to make sure that it is maintained and not compromised,” Cornwall added.

“We have ongoing training and monthly meetings to ensure that all the procedures and the rules are followed. I’m sure this a lesson to everyone (funeral operators) because this is a sad situation and a calamity.”

Rhone’s family is considering legal action against Calvary Funeral Home, which is not registered but which provides funeral services from its Williamsfield outfit in Manchester and stores bodies at Michael’s Mortuary on North Street in Kingston.