Fu­neral homes asked to pre­pare

Health of­fi­cials rec­om­mend vol­un­teer grave dig­gers, al­ter­na­tive stor­age for corpses

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CANADA -

While Canadian health of­fi­cials have ex­ten­sive plans to en­sure peo­ple sur­vive a fu­ture in­fluenza pan­demic, they’ve also made macabre rec­om­men­da­tions for the na­tion’s fu­neral homes for those who don’t.

“In a pan­demic, each in­di­vid­ual fu­neral home could ex­pect to han­dle about six months work within a six- to eightweek pe­riod,” the Pub­lic Health Agency of Canada warns on a web page about the man­age­ment of mass fa­tal­i­ties dur­ing a pan­demic flu.

“That may not be a prob­lem in some com­mu­ni­ties, but fu­neral homes in larger cities may not be able to cope with the in­creased de­mand.”

One of its rec­om­men­da­tions is that fu­neral homes make ad­vance plans for what to do if their own staff get sick, in­clud­ing mak­ing ar­range­ments with vol­un­teers from ser­vice clubs or churches to dig graves.

Stor­age space for corpses could also be a prob­lem, the agency notes, and it says re­frig­er­ated trucks or ice rinks could be pressed into ser­vice if needed.

“Fu­neral ser­vice providers, I can as­sure you, through­out their his­tory, have re­sponded to th­ese sorts of tragedies and would do so again to the very best of their abil­ity,” says Al­lan Cole, a board mem­ber with the Fu­neral Ser­vices As­so­ci­a­tion of Canada and pres­i­dent of MacKin­non and Bowes, a com­pany that pro­vides ser­vices for the fu­neral in­dus­try.

But find­ing a fu­neral home that’s will­ing to talk about their own pan­demic plan­ning is dif­fi­cult. The Canadian Press reached out to nu­mer­ous fu­neral homes in sev­eral Canadian cities and asked whether they were pre­pared for a pan­demic, but not one re­turned the calls.

Cole has been serv­ing on com­mit­tees for about a decade that deal with in­fec­tious dis­eases and how they af­fect the fu­neral pro­fes­sion.

He says there is a lot of in­ter­est in plan­ning when dis­eases such as SARS or Ebola are in the news, but it wanes when pan­demics fade from the head­lines.

Cole says it’s also dif­fi­cult for fu­neral homes to stock many of the extra sup­plies they would need if busi­ness un­ex­pect­edly picked up.

“Anything that you buy and save for some hor­ri­ble even­tu­al­ity, th­ese are items that have a shelf life. You couldn’t buy, for in­stance, la­tex gloves, put them on the shelf and ex­pect 15 years later that they’re in good con­di­tion. They sim­ply aren’t,” Cole says.

“Sub­se­quently, for a pri­vate en­ter­prise to go and un­der­take that sort of an in­vest­ment for a po­ten­tial com­mu­nity re­quire­ment would be hugely oner­ous and, as a re­sult, I don’t think many re­ally em­barked on any sort of a pro­gram to up­grade their in­ven­to­ries for some sort of po­ten­tial re­quire­ment.”

The pub­lic health agency’s 2015 guide for the health sec­tor on plan­ning for a pan­demic notes that his­tor­i­cally, pan­demics have oc­curred three to four times per cen­tury. How­ever, it says there is no pre­dictable in­ter­val.

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