Funeral and Cemetery Expenses in Charlotte, NC – Lack of Competition Drives Up Prices

July 18, 2009

An excellent article appeared in the Charlotte Observer.  Unfortunately, the news isn’t good for Charlotte area residents as it shows what can happen when Competition is reduced.  The article appears below…

When Service Corp. International, the nation’s largest funeral-home chain, bought its biggest competitor in 2006, it took a commanding stake in the Charlotte market and promised to provide quality services and reasonable prices. But three years later, a new survey shows what consumer advocates at the time feared: Charlotte funeral prices have risen, making the city the most expensive in which to be buried or cremated. According to a June survey by Everest Funeral, a research company that works with consumers and life-insurance companies, average funerals in Charlotte cost $5,500, while cremations average $2,821.

The figure for funerals is $1,600 more than the South Atlantic average and $1,500 more than the national average, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.

Some local independent funeral directors blame the high prices on Service Corp., a Houston-based company that owns more than 1,300 funeral homes nationwide, including 60 percent of the homes in Charlotte.

“It’s called controlling the market, and I hate to say that it’s working,” said Tito Truesdale, co-owner of Rosadale Funeral Parlor, an independent home on Albemarle Road in east Charlotte that competes with Service Corp.

Shawn Strickland, Service Corp.’s market manager for the Charlotte area, says he doesn’t believe the results of the survey because he thinks that funerals in big cities such as New York and Washington cost far more than in Charlotte. He said Service Corp. offers a wide range of prices but that the basic price for a funeral is determined by the cost of that home’s overhead.

“It’s such a subjective question, because it really depends on the family and what they want to see happen,” he said. “We don’t have pricing any much different than anyone else does.”

The president of the local chapter of Funeral Consumers Alliance, a nonprofit group that works to educate consumers about funeral-service options, said Service Corp.’s hold on the Charlotte market easily makes the city the priciest for funeral services.

“I hate that Charlotte is at the top of the list, but I don’t doubt it one bit,” said Mary Brack. The Funeral Consumers Alliance doesn’t have a survey that compares funeral pricing in different cities, but Brack said she’s known for a while that Charlotte had to be one of the most expensive.

Local Service Corp. funeral-home owners offer a variety of explanations for Charlotte’s top ranking. They said cemetery costs and property taxes are rising, and that the move toward less-expensive cremations is forcing up traditional-funeral prices to maintain revenue.

Funeral pricing varies, but experts said smaller, independent companies tend to be less expensive than larger chains because they have less corporate overhead and don’t have to pay dividends to shareholders.

Price shopping

When Mamie Stowe knew she was going lose her husband, Eugene, after his two-year battle with cancer, she almost dreaded the funeral-planning process more than his passing. Stowe wanted to honor him with a church service. But she was afraid of being gouged by a funeral home that wanted to be paid upfront and paid a lot.

After Stowe called around in June for quotes that were “ridiculous” and too expensive, a social worker helped her find T.H. Robertson, owner of a private funeral and cremation practice by the same name. Robertson is able to cut overhead costs by meeting customers in their houses instead of requiring them to come to a funeral home.

Robertson said his prices, starting at $3,295 for funerals and $1,295 for cremations, are lower than Service Corp.’s.

The average price of a Charlotte funeral with Service Corp. has risen 10.5 percent to about $6,300 from about $5,700 in 2006, another Everest survey indicates. Nationally, Service Corp. funerals cost $5,097, which is about $1,200 less than the company’s Charlotte prices, according to the company’s most recent federal earnings reports.

When Service Corp. bought Alderwoods Group Inc. in 2006, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission forced it to sell one of the five Charlotte funeral homes it had acquired. The FTC’s decision reduced Service Corp.’s share of the Charlotte-Gastonia-Monroe market to 44 percent from 62 percent and attempted to prevent the merger from raising funeral prices. But Service Corp. still owns six out of 10 Charlotte funeral homes, and prices have climbed in the years since the merger.

Nationally, Service Corp. controls only 7.8 percent of the funeral industry, with 1,302 funeral homes and 369 cemeteries. The company has its largest presence in Charlotte, owning Harry & Bryant Funeral Home, Forest Lawn West Funeral and Cremation Service, all of the McEwen Funeral Service locations and Wilson Funeral and Cremation Service.

“Charlotte is unique,” said Mark Duffey, president and chief executive of Everest. “Usually you don’t see that level of consolidation, which is what makes (funerals) so expensive there.”

Everest is a national research company that helps clients to compare funeral prices and create a customized funeral service with the home of their choice. Consumers pay $495 for unlimited access to Everest specialists and research data or get help from the company as a life insurance benefit through their employers. The survey is based on a six-month national study that looked at basic funeral prices of homes in a 10-mile radius of each city.

Brandon Cook, manager of Service Corp.-owned Forest Lawn Funeral Home said Charlotte’s high taxes and cost of living escalate the area funeral-home prices. But that still doesn’t explain why Charlotte ranks first on the list of most expensive cities for funerals while major cities with comparable or higher costs of living rank significantly lower – Washington is 12th, New York is 15th and Houston is 20th.

Service Corp. funeral managers also point to Charlotte’s high cremation percentage – 30 percent of Charlotte’s deceased are cremated – as the reason for escalating burial costs. Cremations appeal to people everywhere because they’re cheaper, said Cook, but they are particularly popular in Charlotte because of its transient population.

“If people want to be here only for a brief amount of time, they will be able to take their loved ones with them when they move,” Cook said. The shift from high-cost burials to cremations threatens revenue for the funeral industry, which can force overhead prices to go up. But that doesn’t explain why Charlotte outranks all other cities for funeral expenses because cremations have been on the rise nationwide, attributing for 37 percent of the industry.

Financially squeezed families that are going ahead with burial plans are opting for less formal services. That means cutting out limousine rides, purchasing less ornate caskets and in some cases putting off tombstone purchases, funeral industry experts say.

Antitrust accusations

Service Corp. has run into antitrust accusations before. In 2005, the Funeral Consumers Alliance filed a class-action suit against Service Corp. and other major players in the death-care industry. The suit alleged the companies conspired to overcharge customers on caskets by suppressing competition. While not dismissed, the case has not gone forward.

In 1999, Service Corp. faced charges from the New York state attorney general that the company was dominating the Jewish funeral home business there and hurting consumers by raising funeral prices. Service Corp. settled out of court, agreeing to sell three of its Jewish funeral homes and pay the state $1.2 million for the investigation.

Service Corp. also received civil-investigation demands in 2005 and 2006 from the Maryland attorney general about alleged anticompetitive practices in the funeral industry there.

Barak Richman, a professor at Duke University School of Law, said restrictions are put on monopolies because they can pose harm to market competition.

“When all services in a market are dominated by a single provider, output goes down and prices go up,” he said. “But if a monopolist charges higher prices, that should theoretically allow other people to enter the market and provide services at a lower cost.”

Strickland said Service Corp. does not have a monopoly of the Charlotte area and has continued to meet the needs of residents during their times of grief.

“I don’t want to see you come in when you’ve had a death and have to spend a lot of money,” he said. “We can customize the service to fit any budget.”

By: Cameron Steele cameronsteele@charlotteobserver.com

Do you think that ownership of major funeral and/or cemetery providers in your area has hampered competition?  COMMENTS WELCOME!

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Burr Oak Cemetery Investigation – Babyland Now Included!

July 10, 2009

As part of our continuing coverage CNN now reports that an infant burial section called “Babyland” is now part of the investigation.  The article from CNN is reproduced here:

A Cook County cemetery where hundreds of graves were dug up and allegedly resold has been declared a crime scene, meaning that relatives of people believed buried there will not be allowed to visit for several days, an official said Friday.

Family members and police gather outside the Burr Oak Cemetery office in Alsip, Illinois, on Wednesday.

“It would be the height of irresponsibility for me to invite people in, to raise expectations and then crash them,” Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart told reporters in a news conference held at Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois. He pleaded for patience, saying he hoped to reopen the 150-acre cemetery to the public in five to seven days.

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Dart said the scope of the investigation has broadened to include “Babyland,” a section of the cemetery intended for children.

“A lot of women came up to me and asked for help with Babyland,” he said. “To a person, every one I talked to could not find any of their children in Babyland.”

A large number of grave sites “are completely missing,” he said, adding that he had received more than 5,000 telephone inquiries and 1,700 e-mails about the matter since the investigation began.

As many as half of the complaints were about missing headstones, 25 to 30 percent were about loved ones who had been relocated, he said.

He cited the experience of one family looking for 10 relatives buried there. “They couldn’t find anybody,” he said.

In addition, in some cases there are no records of burials having taken place, despite relatives’ insistence that they did, he said. In other cases, records have been altered, destroyed or found in people’s houses, he said.

“Our office has to investigate over 5,000 grave sites due to the vast amounts of inquiries from grieving family members,” he said.

Dart said he himself walked through the cemetery on Friday and what he saw was disturbing. “I found bones out there,” he said. “I found individuals wandering aimlessly looking for their loved ones who can’t find them.”

Some people told him that an entire area that used to have gravestones facing in one direction now has them facing in another direction, he said.

“This is getting bigger,” he said. “We don’t have an end in sight … more people have not found relatives than have found them.”

More than 2,000 families have descended on the cemetery since authorities uncovered what they say was a scheme to resell the plots, excavate the graves, dump the remains and pocket the cash.

Four people face felony charges for their alleged involvement.

He had said earlier this week that the number of disturbed graves was around 300, but said Friday that number was sure to rise.

One family arrived on Thursday to bury a woman in a plot they had purchased and found the plot was already occupied, he said.

Authorities also discovered Emmett Till’s original casket in a dilapidated garage on the cemetery grounds. The casket had been replaced by a new one after Till’s body was exhumed in 2005.

“There was wildlife living inside of it,” Dart said of the old casket, found in the corner of a garage filled with lawn care equipment and other “piles of things.”

Till was killed in August 1955 in Mississippi after the 14-year-old reportedly whistled at a white woman.

His body was exhumed 50 years later as part of a renewed investigation into his death. The Chicago Tribune reported that he was reburied in a different casket.

Thousands of people had viewed Till’s body in the original casket in Chicago shortly after he was killed, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said at the news conference.

“His mother had the gut and grit to say that ‘I want America to see what they did to my baby’s body,'” Jackson said about Till, whose body was mutilated.

“More than 100,000 saw his body lying at the church. It is said that those who saw his body were never the same again,” he said.

“Emmett Till’s lynching redefined emotions in our culture in very fundamental ways. So to see his casket in this state of desecration and neglect is very painful.”

Cemetery groundskeepers told investigators that Till’s grave was not among those disturbed in the alleged resale scheme, Dart said earlier this week.

Carolyn Towns, an office manager for the cemetery; and Keith Nicks, Terrance Nicks and Maurice Daley, all gravediggers, have each been charged with dismembering a human body, a felony charge for which sentences range from six to 30 years, authorities said.

Steven Watkins, an attorney for Towns, said his client is innocent. The public defender’s office in Cook County said it had represented the three others at the bond hearing but could not provide a statement for them.

Authorities began investigating the cemetery — where, along with Till, blues legend Dinah Washington and some Negro League baseball players are buried — about six weeks ago after receiving a call from its owners, who said they suspected “financial irregularities” regarding the business, Dart said earlier this week.

He said the owners are not believed to be involved in the alleged scam.

More to come and comments are welcome!


Burr Oak Cemetery Scandal – Emmett Till’s Original Casket Found – Charges Pending!

July 10, 2009

CNN reports the following:

Authorities revealed more disturbing discoveries Friday at an Illinois cemetery where hundreds of burial plots were allegedly dug up and art.illinois.cemetery2.giresold, including more emptied graves and the discarded casket of a civil rights icon.

Family members and police gather outside the Burr Oak Cemetery office in Alsip, Illinois, on Wednesday.

More than 2,000 families went to Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois, after authorities uncovered what they say was a scheme to excavate the graves, dump the remains, resell the plots and pocket the cash.

Four people face felony charges.

As families arrived to check on their loved ones’ graves, they told authorities about 30 more cases “where another crime scene is obvious,” Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said at a news conference.

Earlier this week, Dart estimated the number of disturbed graves at about 300, but he said Friday the number is likely to rise.

“People have gone to grave sites where the headstones are gone. People have gone to the grave sites where a different person is there now. People have gone to grave sites where it’s clear that something has been removed,” he said.

New burials are taking place, Dart said, and one family that arrived Thursday to bury a woman found that the plot was already occupied.

Dart also said Friday that authorities discovered Emmett Till’s original casket in a dilapidated garage on the cemetery grounds. Till was reportedly buried in a different casket after his body was exhumed in 2005.

“There was wildlife living inside of it,” Dart said of the old casket, which he said was found in the corner of a garage filled with lawn care equipment and other “piles of things.”

Till, 14, was brutally killed in August 1955 in Mississippi after he reportedly whistled at a white woman. Despite the gruesome condition of his corpse, his mother insisted on a public funeral and open casket in an effort to draw attention to the ferocity of her son’s killing.

His body was exhumed 50 years later as part of a renewed probe into his death. The Chicago Tribune reported that he was reburied in a different casket.

Thousands of people viewed Till’s body in the original casket in Chicago shortly after he was killed, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said at Friday’s news conference.

“His mother had the gut and grit to say that, ‘I want America to see what they did to my baby’s body,’ ” Jackson said. “More than 100,000 saw his body lying at the church. It is said that those who saw his body were never the same again.

Emmett Till‘s lynching redefined emotions in our culture in very fundamental ways,” Jackson said. “So to see his casket in this state of desecration and neglect is very painful.”

Cemetery groundskeepers told investigators that Till’s grave was not among those disturbed in the alleged scheme, Dart said earlier this week.

Carolyn Towns, an office manager for the cemetery, and gravediggers Keith Nicks, Terrance Nicks and Maurice Daley have each been charged with dismembering a human body, a felony. Sentences could range from six to 30 years, authorities said.

Steven Watkins, an attorney for Towns, said his client is innocent. The public defender’s office in Cook County said it had represented the three others at the bond hearing but could not provide a statement.

Authorities began investigating the cemetery — where, along with Till, blues legend Dinah Washington and some Negro League baseball players are buried — about six weeks ago after receiving a call from its owners.

The owners said they suspected “financial irregularities” regarding the business, Dart said earlier this week.

The owners are not believed to be involved in the alleged scam.

Here’s a link to another article on this subject:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/07/10/emmett-tills-original-cas_n_229353.html


Chicago Cemetery Workers Face Felony Charges for Digging Up and Reselling Graves at Burr Oak Cemetery – This Was No Last Resting Place

July 10, 2009

Four people face felony charges after authorities discovered that hundreds of graves were dug up and allegedly resold at a historic African-American cemetery near Chicago, Illinois, authorities said Thursday. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said the four would resell the plots in Burr Oak Cemetery in burr_oak_cemetery_88915412Alsip, excavate the graves, dump the remains and pocket the cash. “This was not done in a very, very delicate way, folks,” he told reporters at a news conference Thursday.

“They would excavate a grave and would proceed to dump the remains wherever they found a place to do it in the back of the cemetery. This was not moving graves; this was not replacing graves; this was dumping of them.”

In some cases, graves were stacked on top of each other, they “literally pounded the other one down,” Dart said. In all about 300 graves may have been dug up in the cemetery, he said.

Authorities identified those charged as Carolyn Towns, an office manager for the cemetery; and Keith Nicks, Terrance Nicks and Maurice Daley, all gravediggers.

Each has been charged with dismembering a human body, a felony charge for which sentences range from 6 to 30 years, Anita Alvarez, Cook County state’s attorney, said at the news conference.

Steven Watkins, an attorney for Towns, said his client is innocent. “Somebody is apparently making false accusations against my client,” he said. “She’s maintaining her innocence.”

The Cook County state attorney’s office said the other three charged were being represented by the public defender’s office, and a message left at that office was not immediately returned.

Bail was set at $250,000 for Towns and $200,000 for the other three, Alvarez said. None had posted bail by late afternoon Thursday, the sheriff’s department said.

It was not immediately known if the four had legal counsel.

Authorities began investigating the cemetery — where, among others, lynching victim Emmett Till, blues legend Dinah Washington and some Negro League baseball players are buried — about six weeks ago after receiving a call from its owners who had concerns about possible “financial irregularities” regarding the business, Dart told CNN earlier this week.

“This crime, it’s a whole new dimension,” Alvarez said. Authorities also suspect that Towns pretended to set up a memorial fund for Till and pocketed the funds, Dart said.

He told CNN that groundskeepers, who have not been implicated in the scheme, have said that the grave of Till — whose 1955 lynching at age 14 helped spark the civil rights movement — has not been disturbed.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was also at the news conference, noted the high-profile names of some of those buried in the cemetery, but said, “everybody here is special, and every family has special needs and special hurt, special grief.”

Most of the excavations occurred in back lots, where the plots were older and not frequently visited, Dart said earlier this week. However, other plots may have been disturbed, as well.

The cemetery’s current owners, who could not be reached by CNN for comment, have operated it for more than five years but are not believed to be involved in the alleged scam, Dart said.

He said the workers may have doctored records to cover their tracks and noted that the cemetery holds all the records of who is buried and where.

“There’s virtually no regulations whatsoever (for cemeteries),” Dart said. “Most all of the documents and everything are housed here.”

Investigators are trying to determine the scope of the alleged scheme and plan to use thermal-imaging devices to further examine other graves to see if they have been tampered with, Dart said.

The FBI, forensic scientists and local funeral directors have been called in to help in the investigation, he said.

“I don’t even know what to tell you about the heartbreaking stories that I’ve been hearing from people, crying hysterically that they’re going through the burial for the second time today,” he said.

“And they’re looking for answers and we’re sitting there telling them, ‘This is going to be very difficult,” he said. “We’re trying to bring closure, but it’s going to take a long time to do that.”

Source: CNN.com and ConnectingDirectors.com


Funeral Funding Using Insurance Assignments Made Easy – Funeral Homes Should Not Be Banks!

May 21, 2009

While the focus of Funeral News is to report on death-care related events, we consider our sponsor to be an important asset in the advancement of our cause.  As such, we have asked American Funeral Financial to provide this guest article to our readers.  The following was provided by the fine folks at American Funeral Financial, LLC.

afflogoYou just received a first call.  The family is facing something that, for them, is unusual and, in many cases, unexpected – the death of a loved one.   Not only are they dealing with the emotion of their loss, but are soon to be faced with the costs associated with paying for – what for most is one of the most expensive single purchases of their life.

As funeral directors and/or death care providers the family comes to expect, especially in this day and age, expert service.  What the family may be unprepared for is the immediate need for payment for the goods and services that funeral professionals provide.  On the other hand, unless the family can pay with cash, a valid check or major credit card – you, the funeral service provider, are relegated to becoming a bank.

Times have changed and so have expectations.  Assume for a moment that you were to receive your paycheck on Friday and today is Tuesday.  Could you go to Walmart and purchase groceries with the promise of payment from your check on Friday?  Could secure a cell phone from Verizon with the promise of payment in the future?  The obvious answer to these, or similar questions, is a resounding – NO!  It is no longer reasonable to assume that funeral service providers should be forced to wait for their funds considering the difficulty that many face with insurance assignments today.

Due to the rising costs of goods and services, more and more funeral homes and cemeteries are requiring payment in full prior to providing funeral services getcashnow-newor making the interment.  With the economy today, we find more and more families are relying on insurance as the funding vehicle to pay for those services.  Unfortunately, it can take weeks or even months for the insurance company to pay the claim to the beneficiary or funeral home.  In addition, the paperwork associated with funeral financing via an insurance assignment is becoming more complicated and time consuming, taking valuable time away from doing what you do best – serving families.

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SCI Face Complaints Over Mishandled Baby Remains – Is SCI at Fault?

May 4, 2009

The following is an article that was written by Josh White,a Washington Post Staff Writer.  Read the article and then consider answering the following questions:

  1. 1.  She was told the “Memorial wouldn’t fit” – is it the responsibility of the cemetery to make sure that the merchandise sold will be appropriate for the last resting place of the deceased?

2.  It is alleged that the depth of the grave was insufficient.  It is stated that standard depth for the burial of a coffin would require 18 inches of topsoil to cover the grave.  Therefore, is 8 inches of soil covering the top of the cherub sufficient?

The article is as follows:

A hole began to appear in the fresh dirt over Jordan Hale’s tiny grave at Mount Comfort Cemetery weeks after her burial, prompting cemetery workers to cover the site with a granite slab. Mourning the loss of her stillborn daughter in July 2007 and wondering what was happening, Nsombi Hale was informed that a grave marker she had chosen would not fit and that her baby would have to be reburied. But Hale later learned from a cemetery employee that that wasn’t the real problem.

Instead, Jordan’s small white coffin — called a cherub — had been placed in a shallow grave and covered by just eight inches of soil. When Hale went to witness the disinterment, workers pulled it out in a matter of five minutes, she said.

“It never crossed my mind that something questionable was going on,” Nsombi Hale said, tears slowly rolling down her face. “But it was clear that the grave wasn’t deep enough. They mishandled the remains of my baby, and she deserved more than that.”

The Alexandria cemetery is one of 12 in Virginia owned by Service Corporation International, a Houston-based funeral services conglomerate that is facing allegations of mishandling as many as 200 bodies over the past year at a central preparation facility in Falls Church. SCI owns more than 1,700 funeral homes and cemeteries across the country, making it the largest company of its kind. State regulators are investigating.

A customer, contractors and several current and former employees told The Washington Post in an article this month that conditions at SCI’s central facility at National Funeral Home were disrespectful and unsanitary. They said that bodies of retired military officers destined for Arlington National Cemetery were stored on a rack in the garage for weeks or months and that bodies that had not been embalmed were left in unrefrigerated areas of the facility, where they decomposed and leaked fluids.

Family members of retired Army Col. Andrew Degraff have since filed lawsuits in Fairfax County against SCI. Hale also filed a lawsuit against the company last week in Fairfax, her attorney saying that she had been traumatized by watching her daughter’s grave opened.

“Throughout the disinterment and reinterment, the disturbing odor from the cherub permeated the air at the site, sickening [Hale], who forced herself to remain until her daughter had a proper burial,” said the lawsuit, filed by attorney Jack Burgess.

Virginia law and the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation do not specify how deep graves should be, but cemetery officials in Northern Virginia said coffins are generally buried with at least 18 inches of soil above them.

SCI Virginia Funeral Services, a division of SCI, said in a statement that it discovered the problem with Jordan’s grave and “proactively self-reported the issue to the family and made every effort to resolve it.”

“Although Virginia law does not require a minimum depth of interment, once we determined that the interment did not have 18 inches of depth from the top of the casket to the top of ground level, we alerted Ms. Hale to request her permission to disinter and re-inter Jordan P. Hale,” the company said in a statement, also expressing sympathy for Hale’s loss. “As part of our commitment to transparency, if we make a mistake, we are committed to doing the right thing.”

Hale said she now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and has nightmares and trouble trusting people.

“I needed to be there for Jordan,” Hale said, adding that the beautiful ceremony weeks earlier, with balloons and goodbyes, was dignified and special, in contrast to the shovels and backhoe that accompanied the reinterment. “I wanted to stay to make sure it was done properly.”

In a letter to Burgess on Feb. 14, SCI Market Director Christopher Downey apologized to Hale but said, “Mt. Comfort performed its services as requested,” and noted that the cemetery provided Hale with a refund check of $2,488.75. She has not cashed it.

Downey, who has management and oversight responsibilities for SCI’s 13 locations in the Washington area, wrote that the initial burial was “too shallow” and that a four-inch-thick granite slab was placed over the grave after “an animal had been spotted by the gravesite.” Downey also wrote that cemetery employees strongly advised Hale not to view the disinterment but “despite our warning and insistence, she demanded to be present.”

He offered to donate $500 to charity in Jordan’s name as recompense, according to the letter.

Whistleblowers who have brought the allegations about mishandling of bodies at SCI’s central preparation facility have said that Downey is at the heart of problems there. Steven Napper, a former Maryland state trooper who worked as an SCI embalmer, said he went to Downey in January to raise concerns about the inappropriate storage of bodies in the garage and unsanitary conditions.

Napper said Downey, whose office is at National Funeral Home, brushed him off and appeared to ignore the complaints. Napper later reported his concerns to a Virginia regulatory board and resigned in February. After the Post article appeared, SCI launched an internal investigation.

“I went to Chris Downey personally in January to explain that there was not enough storage capacity at central and to discuss my concerns about the handling of the deceased,” Napper said. “He knew all about it, but he did not respond.”

Requests to speak with Downey were referred to an SCI spokeswoman.

“All of us want to know the facts behind what happened, and we’re diligently conducting an investigation,” said Lisa Marshall, the spokeswoman. “If we find wrongdoing, we will promptly take the necessary corrective action required.”

Family members of two military officers whose bodies were stored on unrefrigerated garage racks said Downey contacted them just before the first Post story ran and said that the allegations were false and were coming from a disgruntled former employee.

Richard Morgan Jr., whose father, Maj. Richard Morgan, was left in his light oak coffin on the racks before his burial at Arlington in February, said Downey backed down when Morgan said he had seen photographs of the conditions in the garage.

“I got a little irate, and I said, ‘I’ve seen the pictures, and you can’t dispute the pictures. These aren’t just allegations,’ ” Morgan said. He added that Downey offered him a refund and that he recently received a check for $14,111, though he said he does not plan to cash it as he pursues legal options.

Hale, who has a 9-month-old daughter named Zoe, said she is suing SCI because she wants things to change at Mount Comfort Cemetery. Burgess, her attorney, said the company already appears to have acknowledged that the burial did not go as it should have.

“It was done out of laziness, it appears, and out of a desire not to dig a deep hole,” he said. “I don’t think it was done maliciously, but it was done fairly recklessly. Nsombi wants to make sure it doesn’t happen to someone else. With big corporations, sometimes the only way to get their attention is to get into their pocketbook.”

It is easy to understand how there can be concern on the part of the family in this situation.  However, without specific regulations governing the required burial depth for an infant, the question remains – is SCI at fault or is the Washington Post writer capitalizing on other negative news relating to the handling of human remains in their northern Virginia operations?

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!


National Funeral Directors Association Responds To Washington Post Article

April 8, 2009

There is little doubt that the failing economy has had its effect on families far and wide – meaning that many who have experienced the loss of loved one(s) find that they are cutting back on the funeral service and burial arrangements.  A Washington Post article has drawn the attention of the public and the National Funeral Directors Association.

Feeling that the Post’s article was one sided and portrayed the news conference conducted by several funeral directors inaccurately, the NFDA issued a istock_000001773919smallstatement of clarification.  The statement is reproduced below:

On March 31, NFDA held a press conference at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., in conjunction with the association’s annual Advocacy Summit. The purpose of the press conference was to candidly convey to the media the results of an informal survey NFDA recently conducted about the impact of the present economic crisis on funeral consumers.

Unfortunately, an employee of the Washington Post chose to grossly misrepresent the statements and insights offered by several licensed practitioners serving as NFDA spokespersons via an article and an online video posted the following day. The video, in particular, was a pure fabrication that resorted to a cut-and-paste method of editing NFDA spokesperson responses and placing them in conjunction with questions not asked during the press conference. Also deliberately misstated and misleading is the implication that NFDA sought “bailout funds” from the federal government for practitioners. Clearly expressed during the press conference is that the association briefly discussed the idea internally about seeking additional federal funds to help indigent or unemployed consumers offset funeral and burial costs during the present economic crisis – another fact this employee chose to misrepresent.

It remains unclear if the views conveyed in both the article and video reflect the biased, ill-informed perception this employee holds about funeral service or if his intent was to offer some sort of ill-conceived “April Fool’s” joke that failed miserably.

Regardless, NFDA regrets that this individual blatantly chose to perform such a disservice to readers of the “Washington Post” by providing a slanted point of view, perpetuating stereotypes and resorting to broad-brush, hackneyed clichés instead of reporting the facts. NFDA General Counsel T. Scott Gilligan has contacted the Washington Post, expressed the facts and requested the immediate removal of the video.

NFDA encourages consumers and licensed professionals alike to read another article that resulted from the same press conference, which conveys an unbiased reflection of the statements and insights offered, at http://www.newsobserver.com/1573/story/1467535.html. More information about the present impact of the economy on funeral consumers is also available by calling the NFDA Public Relations Department at 800-228-6332.

The News and Observer’s report states the following:

Funeral directors are turning down their thermostats, doing their own laundry and not buying new hearses, according to a new National Funeral Directors Association survey.

The reason: Funeral home revenues are weakening as more consumers opt for cremations, cheaper caskets, shorter viewing periods and cheaper wakes. Also suffering are trusts and stock funds in which funeral homes invest money from clients who prepay for their funeral arrangements.

While is it important to fairly represent comments made at the meeting, one thing that seems to be glossed over is the very real loss of trust fund assets.  Not only have funeral trust funds suffered losses as the economy has scaled back, but so have perpetual care trust funds used by cemeteries to provide maintenance.

Many states require certain minimum funding amounts for perpetual care trust funds.  If a cemetery perpetual trust fund falls below the minimum established by law then the state would naturally require the organization to fund the deficit.  Reports indicate that many firms, especially larger ones whose trust funds were invested more aggressively have lost massive amounts and may be facing a cash shortfall when make up funding is required.

Hopefully, we will soon see an economic turn around that will reduce the impact on families, firms and trust funds.

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