Fu­neral homes asked to prep for pan­demics

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - ROB DRINKWA­TER

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 eight-week 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 gets 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 its 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.

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