Operators of official funeral homes say they have sufficient space to store bodiesThursday, September 16, 2021
BY BRITTNY HUTCHINSON
Several funeral directors across the island have moved to allay fears of a pile-up of bodies because of the spike in COVID-19-related deaths, the restrictions on burials, and the frequent no-movement days which have been implemented since last month.
But the operators admitted that some families have been opting to delay burials as they wait on a relaxation of the measures surrounding burials.
Under the present COVID-19 restrictions, funeral services are banned and burials are only allowed on weekdays with a maximum of 15 people at the burial site including mourners, officiating clergy, gravediggers and undertakers. Burials are not allowed on no-movement days.
As of September 18, funeral services are allowed with a maximum 20 attendees.
Among the funeral directors who spoke with the Jamaica Observer was Paul Patmore, operator of Patmore's Funeral Home in Lowe River Trelawny.
He said there is enough space at his facility and there is no pile-up of bodies.
“It is something that we prepared for, so we have the space and everything for that. I think the funeral industry is in good hands right now and I don't think the industry is having much of a problem right now as it relates to storage,” said Patmore.
He stressed that his funeral home is still in a safe zone as it relates to storage space. According to Patmore, the number of bodies at his funeral home now is between 30 and 40 which is a slight increase on the average of 20 bodies it would have in storage.
“We are still allowed to do burials, but we only have three days instead of five so what we might have is more persons burying on the same day and it might be challenging with the hearses, but we just have to prepare for it because the lockdown is necessary at this time so we have to work with that,” added Patmore.
A similar story was shared by Cameka Campbell Green, managing director at Exodus Funeral Services in Annotto Bay, St Mary.
Campbell Green said even though there is adequate storage space at the funeral home, families are being encouraged to make early funeral arrangements to avoid extra storage cost.
“What we impress on the clients is to not wait because you have some persons who will say they are waiting on the Government to ease the lockdown days. We have been telling them not to wait on that because in the event that the Government doesn't, then it will cost them more,” said Campbell Green.
“As long as the Government allows us to do the burials, although it is a couple days, then at least we know that bodies will be going out so we won't have a problem with pile-ups,” added Campbell Green.
In the Corporate Area operators of a number of funeral homes also indicated that they were not having any issue with the storage of bodies.
However, Joseph Cornwall Sr of House of Tranquillity argued that the no-movement days will eventually have a major impact on the funeral industry.
“It is of concern because on the lockdown days, there are no funerals and that might lead to a pile-up. Currently, we have been okay, although the numbers have increased because of COVID-19 deaths,” said Cornwall.
“But we are doing fine in our storage capacity as we have increased it to facilitate the expected COVID-19-related deaths,” added Cornwall.
Mark Maitland, general manager at Garden of Paradise Funeral Home, also indicated that there was no pile up of bodies at this time.
“We would have at least two or three burials on the same day within a particular time frame which will help to cut down on the number of bodies we have,”said Maitland.
In the meantime, president of the Jamaica Association of Certified Embalmers (JACE) and Funeral Directors Calvin Lyn told the Observer that while he is asking the Government to allow burials from Monday to Friday, there is no issue with storage space for the dead among JACE members.
“The general pile-up for those who are complaining would include regular deaths and COVID deaths, because of the time allowed for burial which is Wednesday to Friday and that is not enough...We are asking the Government to revert to the Monday to Friday…that will help us a way,” said Lyn.
He added that there is no issue of storage space for the almost 24 funeral directors who are members of JACE.
“For us as members of JACE we talk, and we have enough space. We are not complaining about running out of space, because after three days and we get the certificate to say the case is a COVID-19 case, it doesn't have to be refrigerated. Embalming cases don't have to be refrigerated,” said Lyn.
“Like when you embalm to send out of [the country] and send abroad. We have sent remains as far as India already. It has to be thoroughly embalmed, so we, the members of JACE, don't have any problem with space,” added Lyn as he noted that some funeral home operators don't have a proper facility to store bodies.
“For instance [if one location] is storage for 20 [funeral homes] and they have 10 each, that's 200 bodies, so [they] might run out of space and bawling.
“These informal operators don't have a formal facility, so more than 20 of them store at a particular place, so that is why it is piling up on them,” added Lyn as he renewed his call on the Government to pass the Public Health Funeral Establishment and Mortuary Operations Regulation.
“You know what the draft regulation of the Ministry of Health says — that started from 2014 and was updated by this Government in December 2019 — is that to get your licence you have to have a proper facility with proper refrigeration system, an embalmer [who] is qualified by a certified institution working in your establishment and have that certificate to show that they are there on the job before they can get a licence,” said Lyn.
“It don't come through yet. [Minister of Local Government] Desmond McKenzie said at a meeting week before last that it might not come in until 2022... that is what is causing the problem, the regulation. Long overdue,” said Lyn.
- Kasey Williams contributed to this story