Fu­neral home hor­rors re­veal in­dus­try’s spotty reg­u­la­tions

Reg­u­lar In­spec­tions rare in many states; four re­quire none

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - NATION | WORLD - By Corey Williams

DETROIT — The stench of de­com­pos­ing flesh pulsed from a fu­neral home into a Michi­gan neigh­bor­hood as mag­gots wrig­gled along the garage floor near card­board-boxed corpses stacked along walls.

The dead can’t com­plain, but on oc­ca­sion — through rot — they scream for judg­ment against the liv­ing en­trusted with prompt and solemn cre­ma­tion or burial. Of 10 bod­ies found in the un­re­frig­er­ated garage at Swan­son Fu­neral Home in Flint last year, one was not em­balmed and had been there about six weeks. The Michi­gan at­tor­ney gen­eral filed com­plaints against the business, but it re­mained open un­til July — after in­spec­tors again found bod­ies in the un­re­frig­er­ated garage. It’s a ‘bud­get thing’

The Flint business is one of sev­eral fu­neral homes in the U.S. in re­cent years that have been forced to close after sim­i­larly grue­some dis­cov­er­ies, usu­ally only after some­one has com­plained to lo­cal au­thor­i­ties. Fu­neral home reg­u­la­tions vary across the U.S., with some states re­quir­ing an­nual in­spec­tions and sev­eral re­quir­ing no in­spec­tions at all. Michi­gan is among those that re­view fu­neral homes when they ap­ply for a li­cense or when a com­plaint is filed.

“I think bet­ter state over­sight is cer­tainly the so­lu­tion,” but “it’s re­ally go­ing to be a bud­get thing,” said Scott Gil­li­gan, gen­eral coun­sel of the Na­tional Fu­neral Di­rec­tors As­so­ci­a­tion. “Most states are strug­gling with bud­gets. It costs more money to hire in­spec­tors and hire bet­ter en­force­ment.”

The Flint fu­neral home had been fined sev­eral times and faced mul­ti­ple com­plaints be­fore Michi­gan’s De­part­ment of Li­cens­ing and Reg­u­la­tory Af­fairs sus­pended li­censes of the business and its man­ager, O’Neil Swan­son II. The move fol­lowed an unan­nounced in­spec­tion in May that was spurred by news re­ports that staff had mixed up two bod­ies.

Be­fore that, Michi­gan’s at­tor­ney gen­eral had filed gross neg­li­gence, in­com­pe­tence and other com­plaints in Septem­ber 2016 after the 10 bod­ies were found in the garage.

Com­plaints also led to this sum­mer’s clo­sure of Pre­mium Mor­tu­ary Ser­vices in Carlisle, Ohio, where one body had mold while the face of an­other that ar­rived in March “was be­gin­ning to mum­mify,” ac­cord­ing to an in­spec­tor’s report. 16 rot­ting bod­ies found

Ohio’s fu­neral board sends an in­spec­tor an­nu­ally. Maine does ran­dom in­spec­tions. North Carolina and New Hamp­shire re­quire them ev­ery three years. But no in­spec­tions are re­quired in Alaska, Delaware, Iowa and Colorado, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Con­fer­ence of Fu­neral Ser­vice Ex­am­in­ing Boards.

Florida in­spects at least an­nu­ally, but was un­aware of prob­lems at Brock’s Home Town Fu­neral Home in Panama City un­til con­tacted by the lo­cal sher­iff’s of­fice, which found 16 bod­ies rot­ting there in Au­gust 2016.

One be­longed to 88-year-old Ada Kim­ble, whose body had been there for about 10 days be­fore her fam­ily learned it had not been cre­mated.

“I think the state should check more reg­u­larly, just like in a restau­rant when the health in­spec­tor checks,” said Kim­ble’s daugh­ter, Mary Clay.

What took place at Brock’s was “a rare oc­cur­rence” in Florida, said Jon Moore, spokesman for the state’s Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices De­part­ment, which over­sees fu­neral homes. The agency did just un­der 2,000 in­spec­tions and in­ves­ti­ga­tions in 2016-17.

“Our state is grow­ing and we have a large el­derly pop­u­la­tion,” Moore said. “As we see that growth, we are work­ing to make sure we keep up with any harm­ful trends that may de­velop within the in­dus­try.”

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