Tue | Oct 23, 2018

Gleaner Editors' Forum | Dark and deadly - Fly-by-night funeral directors reportedly hawkish and dangerous

Published:Sunday | July 15, 2018 | 12:00 AMRomario Scott

Painted as the scavengers of the industry, fly-by-night funeral directors have increased from an estimated 120 to 150 in recent months, forcing those certified in the field to sound the alarm as to the threat facing Jamaicans.

Armed with that they claim is evidence of unprofessionalism by the uncertified, the members of Jamaica Association of Certified Embalmers and Funeral Directors told a Gleaner Editors' Forum last Friday that the shady operators are preying on grieving families while wreaking havoc in a delicate industry.

With little or no overhead cost and without paying the required government taxes, these players on the fringes of the established industry make price pitches of amounts considerably lower than industry standards.

The certified funeral directors charge that these unprofessional operators embark on underhand practices such as using syringes or spray pans to poorly embalm bodies, which they sometimes store in regular deep freezers.

All this while giving the impression that they are saving Jamaicans from forking out big bucks to pay the established entities to put their loved ones to rest.

"I don't know how, in 2018, we have a situation where somebody can be driving a taxi today and they decide tomorrow they are a funeral director," a puzzled Gordon Chuck, director at the Sam Isaacs Funeral Home questioned during the forum.

"These people are there handling human remains, handling dangerous pathogens, dealing with chemicals that they don't understand ...," added Chuck.

The 'suitcase operators' are reportedly very savvy in business and will do whatever it takes to bag their next body.

"They would register business, rent a place at a plaza or wherever, hustle, solicit, bribe, beg and buy bodies," said Calvin Lyn, president of the Jamaica Association of Certified Embalmers and Funeral Directors.

He told Gleaner editors and reporters that these uncertified operators also lure customers by showing them pictures stored on their phones and other electronic devices of funerals that they are supposed to have done, and offering really low prices.

But the certified funeral directors claim that oftentimes the cost swells, as these fringe operators are not always exact in their quotes.

The certified funeral directors further claim that the rogue operators may not only put themselves at risk of contracting diseases but also the wider public,

"We have had to have our tetanus shots to protect ourselves from diseases. Whoever is also employed with us has to be immunised, so when you have somebody who just come up who says they are doing this and they have a man doing whatever with a syringe and they have a body that might have hepatitis, it can cause serious health challenges," said Stephanie Morgan of Morgan's Funeral Home.

"When they fool the people and say 'the bodies are embalmed' ... nothing of the sort. When a minister of religion will say to me, 'Boy, when a hear that the body is coming from X place you know, I make sure tell my people to put it on the porch'. You cannot take your breath in the church," alleged Lyn.

romario.scott@gleanerjm.com