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Call for funeral industry regulation

Lack of regular inspections or requirement of qualifications putting public and sector at risk, says practitioner
Guardian Business Editor

Published: Oct 18, 2013

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A funeral director has scoffed at suggestions in the auditor general’s report that “best practices” prevail throughout the funeral industry, arguing that non-qualified practitioners are acting in the sector, creating public health risk and under-cutting legitimate operators.

Wendell Dean, director of Emerald Ridge Mortuary, called for the government to urgently implement legislation to govern the sector, highlighting a lack of oversight which results in these operations not being subject to inspections by the Department of Environmental Health Services on a regular basis.

His comments come after Auditor General Terrance Bastian, in the 2011 report of the auditor general tabled in Parliament on Wednesday, notes that the funeral industry does not have standardized procedures, practices and legislation in place and recommends that legislation be drafted in this regard.

However, despite these reservations, and noting the fact that the Department of Environmental Health Services “confirmed inspections are only conducted whenever a complaint is lodged”, the report says the auditor was satisfied “best practices were in place and adequate waste handling procedures and safety mechanisms were in operation” throughout the sector.  The auditor mentions meeting with “three funeral directors”.

Dean, president of the United Funeral Directors Association of The Bahamas (UFDAB), said that the suggestion that best practices prevail throughout the industry is “a joke” and called on the auditor to explain how this assessment was reached given that inspections are few and far between.

“I am in an industry that deals with blood, pathogens, viruses and yet there are no scheduled or random inspections.  How can they say there are best practices being followed when there are no inspections?

“(The Department of) Environmental Health Services hasn’t been through here in years.  If I want to get a business license I call them and they come in, do the inspection, and then I use that to get my license.  Unless I call them for renewal, I won’t see them again,” said Dean.

Suggesting that “anyone” can open a funeral home in The Bahamas, Dean said this has resulted in grieving families being subject to “hustling” funeral home operators outside the doors of the Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) morgue as they fight over business.

“You’ve got fellas who are not qualified funeral directors.  They have no training, they may have worked around a home for several years and they figure they will open a home, but they are not qualified.

“If I worked in a doctor’s office for a few years, could I open a medical practice?  If I worked in a dental office could I become a dentist without any training?

“If a doctor puts something in a medical certificate, you are supposed to be able to verify that.  You need to have studied microbiology, anatomy, along with embalming chemistry, grief psychology, accounting... these guys can’t do that, and yet they are able to set up a company and under-cut the qualified operators.”

Dean, a qualified funeral director who has worked in the sector for 30 years, said he has been “back-stabbed and vilified” for his efforts throughout the years to seek regulation for the industry, which have seen him meet with successive administrations, but to no avail.

As of 2010, when he last wrote to the government urging regulation of the sector, Dean said there were 13 qualified funeral directors listed in that letter sent to the government.

• The original version of this article was corrected to reflect that only 13 qualified funeral directors were listed in a letter sent to government in 2010, and that Dean had been in the industry for 30 years. It was originally reported that there were 13 qualified funeral directors in The Bahamas, and Dean had been in the industry for 17 years.

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Last Updated on Monday, 21 October 2013 20:52

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