Funeral homes facing new challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic - InfoNews

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Funeral homes facing new challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic

Image Credit: ADOBE STOCK
March 26, 2020 - 7:00 AM

Funeral homes in the Okanagan are doing their best to continue operating safely while serving clients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although limits on gathering of over 50 people have been put into place, funeral homes and the bereaved have been working around the situation the best they can.

"The cremation rate is pretty close to 90 per cent now. So what’s happening is a lot of people are being cremated, and many of those people are not holding a formal service,” said Drake Smith, owner of Drake Cremation & Funeral Services in Kamloops. “Because of cremation, it allows them the flexibility of time. They can postpone it for a month or two… until everyone feels safe to gather again.”

For some who still wish to have a service, accommodations are being made.

Springfield Funeral Home in Kelowna is offering live streaming for gatherings as needed.

"Essentially, what we are dealing with is double-loss for people,” explained Richard Henseleit owner of Springfield Funeral Home. "It’s not just the loss of their loved one, but the loss of the freedoms to access bereavement [practices] that would help navigate the grieving process.”

His task is to provide supports and customs they need under the obvious constraints of the current environment.

"Appropriate, smart social engagement, is part of the medicine,” Henseleit said.

Funeral homes are also taking precautions with their staff, most taking appointments only, and relying heavily on email and phone calls.

The transfer team is the most at risk, as they are responsible for retrieving a deceased person from their home.

"We’re certainly using gloves, as we always do,” explains Smith, adding that they also use masks and disinfecting products.

However, as masks have been scarce, supplies are limited. Springfield Funeral Home and Drake Cremation & Funeral Services both had a supply of masks already on hand, but this supply will only suffice for the short-term.

Kamloops Funeral Home is facing an even shorter supply.

"One of our challenges is acquiring those N95 masks,” said owner Lawrence Schrader. "It’s quite the shortage. We have some, but not a lot left.”

Funeral homes are not currently designated as an essential service, but require the same Personal Protective Equipment that health workers do in order to do their job safely.  

Being designated as an essential service would allow funeral homes to remain open, while giving them access to PPE and other necessary resources.

On March 23, the B.C. Funeral Association took part in a joint letter to the Federal Government with all of Canada's other Funeral Service Associations, asking to be granted essential and critical services status.

The letter states, "We are compelled to remind you of the necessity of taking care of the deceased affected by and not affected by COVID-19. To be clear, those who die at home, hospital or in retirement facilities must be cared for. We are now, and have always been the caregivers in that sense.”

Funeral homes in B.C. are also awaiting updates from the provincial regulator in regards to their status during this time.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Brie Welton or call (250) 819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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