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Modified COVID-19 restrictions hurting funeral homes

Published:Thursday | March 18, 2021 | 12:05 AMHopeton Bucknor/Gleaner Writer

WESTERN BUREAU:

Melvin Honeyghan, president of the Funeral Directors’ Association of Jamaica, says only government-contracted funeral directors stand to benefit from the recent adjustments made to burial restrictions, which now makes allowances for cremation, the burial of decomposing bodies, and the interment of indigent persons who die while in state care.

According to Honeyghan, while there are approximately 120 funeral operators in Jamaica, the announcement recently made by Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie will only benefit the 14 government-contracted funeral directors in the 14 parishes, leaving the other directors in a financial bind.

“If we have 120 funeral operators in Jamaica and only the 14 government contractors are given permission to dispose of bodies, it means that less than one-tenth would be benefiting from what Minister McKenzie said,” stated Honeyghan. “If we have one contractor per parish, that means that it would be 14 funeral homes out of the 120 who would be benefiting.”

Stand to lose millions

Honeyghan, who is also the director of Honeyghan’s Funeral Service and Crematorium in Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland, said the position taken by the Government means the vast majority of the funeral directors stands to lose millions of dollars and as such, he is calling for an immediate modification of the order to include non-government contractors to the arrangement.

According to him, government contractors are responsible for the picking up of bodies that fall under the auspices of the government, such as those of the indigent and unclaimed bodies, which are the ones covered under the adjustment made by McKenzie.

“The decomposed bodies would also fall to the contractors, because they would have been the ones who have picked-up these remains. So, we, as regular funeral homes, are not benefiting from what the local government ministry did,” said Honeyghan, who believes the existing arrangement stands to continue, based on the growing number of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Honeyghan is also questioning the designation of cremation in McKenzie’s statement, as he does not believe it should be classified in the same way as a burial.

“Now, if you ask me about the type of interment, one, cremations are separate and apart from burials,” said Honeyghan. “Also, since we are on the matter of cremation, this the minister should have not mixed up with burials, because it has nothing to do with an interment that is called cremation.”

Honeyghan believes the decision taken to exclude the vast majority of funeral directors from the Government’s plans to dispose of the bodies of the indigent and decomposed bodies could come back to hurt the Government.

“Also, I don’t know if the Government took into consideration before closing the industry that March is tax period, and this is what the Government uses to run the country,” said Honeyghan. “How are we going to find that money to pay our taxes, when we have to use what little we have to pay staff and other regular bills. What is now going to happen is that we will have to put the income taxes on hold.”

Interestingly, when The Gleaner visited the Westmoreland-based Doyle’s Funeral Home, the largest government contractors in western Jamaica, we were told that the facility, which is owned and operated by Dr Robert Doyley, was yet to get the green light to start carrying out burials under the modified conditions.

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