COVID-19 slackness concerns funeral directorsSunday, October 04, 2020
BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT
FUNERAL directors across the island are urging the Government to address concerns surrounding the handling of COVID-19 bodies.
Michael Jones of Jones Funeral Home said there is a lack of regulation in the industry and in the absence of appropriate guidelines, some industry players flout with general safety protocols that guide handling of the deceased when an infectious disease is at play.
Jones told the Jamaica Observer that while he is contracted by a hospital to collect COVID-19 bodies, when family members request that the body of their loved ones be released to the funeral home of their choice, the rules are often broken.
“I notice some come here and they are well prepared. They have their PPEs (personal protection equipment) and everything nice. But there are others who sometimes they come here and not even gloves they have. I remember one guy who when I asked him for the mortuary cot or what you call stretcher, he took up the body with his naked hands. Anyway, we tagged the body and I said where are your PPEs, him say him don't have none —even gloves. I said to him, 'I'm not giving you like this'. He said to me, 'I don't work with the morgue, a dem send me'. I refused and told him to go back and get the proper gear but when he came back he only had the gloves, but I really have no power to keep the body so I gave him,” Jones told the Sunday Observer.
“Another was doing a removal for a funeral home. I asked him where are your PPEs. Him say, 'Is what?'. I said to him, 'It's a COVID-19 body and he just drove away — scared — he drove away. Some funeral directors are sending people to do removal service, to pick up bodies for them and they don't have the gear either.”
Subsequently, Jones said he has had close to 20 funeral home representatives come ill-prepared, and explained that this disregard for handling COVID-19 bodies poses a major threat to public health, and wants State intervention.
“We need public health inspection to go around, regulate funeral homes, see if they have proper storage and the right gear. This virus has killed thousands in America [and] we can't slip up here. Doctors and nurses play their part, but funeral directors need to as well. The Government must assign certain funeral homes in each parishes to specifically handle COVID-19 bodies,” Jones said while calling for State intervention.
Further, he said a lot of individuals view the industry as lucrative and enter without having the necessary certification as there is no due process involved in registering a funeral home.
“You can just go and register a funeral home without any certification to say you are a qualified mortician. We have morgues operated by professional persons and then you have others doing it with no experience. It needs tightening up and regulations. Years back there were no institutions here that taught mortuary science, so you had to go overseas. Now you can go to MoBay Community College and do it — go get the certification. But in the same breath, we need regulation and legislation that is strict on this. In other professions this is illegal, you can't just get up and open a doctor office. The big players come good, but then there are those who are doing the funeral business and don't have a morgue so they just call anyone and send them for the body. Public health department needs to check this out,” he said.
In addition, Joseph Cornwall Sr of House of Tranquillity Funeral Home has labelled preparations surrounding COVID-19 bodies as grossly inadequate, and called on Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton to give some well-needed answers.
“From where I sit, I am of the opinion that the preparations as it relates to removal and storage of bodies; disposal of medical waste; duty concessions on material and medication such as syringes, cotton, basic medication; duty concessions on first call cars (hearses) and provisions for cremation are grossly inadequate. At present we are coping with the situation but unlike any pandemic we expect to see a spike in cases. It is my opinion that all those who are involved in the handling, removal, transportation and burial should be informed once the first call is made for the removal and storage of the body. Funeral homes that are contracted to the Government of Jamaica should be entrusted to remove, store, prepare bodies for cremation within 24 hours. The Ministry of Health and Wellness must provide the necessary supplies on a duty-free basis,” Cornwall Sr said.
Cornwall added: “Wherever family members fail to take possession of a body within 24 hours after death has been pronounced and notification has been made, as long as the cadaver or body has been identified, the attending physician should issue the medical certificate of the cause of death within 24 hours, as long as no foul play has been suspected. If we are to contain the pandemic, we must do all that is possible to contain it, with the cooperation of the medical personnel and the police. Where there is difficulty to complete the process, within seven days, once the deceased has been identified, burial should be allowed.”
Further, the veteran funeral home operator said another measure to help with containment should be the refusal of exhumation, unless there is proof that exhumation would bring closure to a case.
Besides, he said it is the precautionary measures and necessary assistance that the Government extends to all concerned, and the necessary assistance given to families during their time of bereavement, that will help to see them through in their time of grief and pain in order to expedite the burial or cremation.
“My late friend Dr Vendryes in his Sunday evening programme always reminds us that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. We must remember that it is never easy to accept the loss of a loved one, however, we must do as much as earthly possible to assist them through this period. The Government must work with the stakeholders by giving them the necessary assistance and financial resources where possible. I am sure it will go a far way when families are facing serious financial challenges to make ends meet,” Cornwall Sr said.
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