Funeral homes brace for rising COVID-19 deaths, prepare to share resources

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — There’s a call for funeral homes to share resources as coronavirus deaths surge in parts of the state. 

The Texas Funeral Service Commission, which regulates funeral homes, wants to know how funeral homes are doing when it comes to capacity to store bodies and with personal protective gear. 

“We’ve asked funeral directors throughout the state if they can help with resources,” explained Glenn Bower, Executive Director of Texas Funeral Service Commission. “Whether it be sharing a refrigeration facility either in their building or portable refrigeration unit, or coordination with the hospitals or the local ME’s office — those things are really important in terms of managing this type of crisis.” 

Green Cremation Texas in Austin just got a walk-in refrigerator and body cooler so they would have enough room to store bodies. 

“We increased our refrigerated storage by 300%, so we are completely prepared for this at this point,” said Funeral Director Melissa Unfred with Green Cremation Texas. “We have seen an increase in the death calls that we’ve been receiving across the board.”

Unfred said typically they get 30 to 45 cremations or burials a month, but right now that’s doubled, and about 10% of the calls they’re getting are COVID-19 related. 

“One of the biggest hold ups right now for not just my funeral home, but many funeral homes is that doctors that don’t get a death certificate signed in a timely manner are holding up refrigeration space,” explained Unfred. “We’re having to chase some doctor down to get them to do their part, because in order for us to get permits issued by the county, we have to have the doctor sign the digital death certificate.”

Unfred explained that has been causing a three to five day delay in cremations and burials. Bower has heard the concerns and said they are pushing for that to be done more quickly. 

He said as funeral homes prepare for an increase in calls, resources are needed in some of the hardest-hit areas where COVID-19-related deaths have spiked. 

“I’m trying to make sure that if the funeral homes need some type of personal protective equipment, I’m finding those resources. If they need some support in terms of refrigeration or personnel sharing, I’m trying to facilitate those things,” said Bower. 

Bower will be sharing data about capacity and storage with emergency management teams and hopes it will help everyone prepare moving forward. 

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