See how State of Michigan investigated 'deplorable' Flint funeral home

(WXYZ) - The complaints filed against Swanson Funeral Home in Flint, Michigan are stacking up: a total of 65 complaints have now been filed between 1997 and 2017.

The funeral home is owned by O’Neil Swanson II of West Bloomfield.

Related: State of Michigan long-aware of horrific complaints at Flint funeral home

Some of those complaints include:

-Employee reports of bodies behind mishandled and unsanitary conditions

-Unrefrigerated human remains stored in the un-air-conditioned garage (some for more than 90 days and up to five months)

-Questions from families about whether they were provided the right ashes

-Missing medical devices removed from bodies

According to state regulators:

-65 complaints were filed against the funeral home between 1997 and 8/18/17.

-61 complaints were filed by citizens against the funeral home.

-Four were opened by LARA.

-30 complaints were closed with no disciplinary action taken, and two resulted in disciplinary action taken in 2004 and 2014.

-As of 8/18/17, 33 complaints remained open pending resolution to date.

-Associated complaints were opened against Mr. Swanson’s individual mortuary science license.

Documents obtained by the 7 Investigators reveal multiple simultaneous state regulatory investigations were taking place between 2012 and 2017, so we wanted to know why the funeral home was not shut down un July 11, 2017.

Due to the ongoing investigation, a spokesman for Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs could not answer our specific questions about why they didn’t do more inspections, but Communications Director Jason Moon did provide us this detailed explanation about LARA and MIOSHA’s procedures that may help answer some families’ questions:

Statement

LARA, in conjunction with several of our bureaus and the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, shut down Swanson Funeral Home in Flint due to repeated violations of Michigan’s Health and Occupational Codes and several other state statutes.

Our department is working closely with the Attorney General’s office as the ongoing investigation into this matter continues. Following our regulatory actions in July, we have received and are investigating additional complaints against the home. Due to the ongoing investigation and pending litigation regarding this case, we cannot comment on the timeline of our actions or the details of our investigations at this time.

Michigan residents trust funeral home directors, owners, and their establishments to follow the law especially when dealing with the death of a loved one. We will continue to aggressively hold every funeral home in Michigan to the highest standards of public health and safety.

Cremains at Swanson’s

Following LARA’s regulatory orders, all bodies and cremains were immediately removed from the facility. LARA worked with Swartz Funeral Home and Lawrence E. Moon Funeral Home to provide services for those whose loved ones were previously scheduled for services or viewings. These two homes were chosen based on proximity and their lack of a disciplinary record. LARA contacted each next-of-kin for those whose loved ones were awaiting cremation at Swanson’s to assist them with contracting with another funeral home to achieve the final disposition of their loved one.

Mortuary Science Inspection Rules

Rule 339.18933 states:

(1) A representative of the department shall be permitted to inspect a

funeral establishment to ascertain that the establishment is in compliance with the law

and these rules.

(2) A funeral establishment shall be inspected during establishment working

hours as follows:

(a) On a routine basis.

(b) Any time the establishment undergoes structural changes.

(c) When there is a change in ownership.

(d) When an establishment is first opened.

(3) A funeral establishment may be inspected at any time when the inspection is

part of the investigation of a complaint.

 

General Mortuary Science Inspection Protocols

Upon identifying a particular violation or issue of concern with a funeral home / mortuary science licensee, whether by complaint or random inspection, LARA may exercise its authority to do follow up inspections to monitor and assure on-going compliance with mortuary science law and rules. Each case is evaluated on an individual basis for the need for random follow up inspections as to schedule and frequency. Oftentimes the corrective action is a condition of a settlement agreement with the licensee to resolve a complaint / violation. The degree of severity and impact on the public is foremost in these considerations.

Administrative Process Timeline – Administrative Procedures Act; Michigan Occupational Code

  • When a complaint is received, it is first reviewed to determine whether the Bureau has jurisdiction over the matter. If it does, an investigation commences.

 

  • Depending on the complexity of the matter and how many witness interviews conducted or additional documentation needs to be collected, the investigation could take several months to complete.

 

  • If, after an investigation, the Bureau determines that a violation occurred, formal action is requested, and a formal complaint or other administrative order is issued.

 

  • If the formal complaint is issued against a respondent licensee, an opportunity for compliance conference is afforded to the licensee, requesting a respondent response within 15 days. If the Bureau does not receive a response to the formal complaint, the Bureau must request a formal administrative hearing date before the disciplinary action becomes a final order.

 

  • If a compliance conference occurs, the respondent may either demonstrate compliance with the law or voluntarily engage in settlement negotiations with the Bureau which may extend past the date of the compliance conference.

 

  • If a resolution is not achieved following the compliance conference, the Bureau requests a formal administrative hearing date which is scheduled by the Michigan Administrative Hearing System. If compliance is demonstrated, the complaint is closed with no disciplinary action taken. If a settlement is reached, the settlement agreement is forwarded to the Board for acceptance or rejection.

 

  • The Board of Examiners in Mortuary Science is required to meet twice per calendar year.  If the Stipulation is accepted, a final order is issued shortly following the Board meeting and mailed to the respondent or respondent’s attorney.

 

  • If a formal administrative hearing is held, the administrative law judge issues a Hearing Report for cases held under the Occupational Code containing findings of fact and conclusions of law typically within 90 days of the hearing date if there are no other pending motions or issues.

 

  • There are times when the evidentiary hearing is delayed to allow the parties to exchange witness and exhibit lists, argue motions, or continue settlement negotiations. One or both parties may also request adjournments of the hearing for good cause. The Hearing Report would be reviewed at the next Board meeting when the Board has the discretion to impose license penalties through a final order, which the Bureau mails to the respondent or the respondent’s attorney.

Administration Process – Swanson

The 30 days for Swanson to request a hearing to challenge the cease and desist order expired 8/11. Swanson also had 15 days to elect a compliance conference or formal hearing date to respond to the administrative complaint and that time frame expired 7/27. There is no specific time frame to file a petition to dissolve the Order of Summary Suspension.

The next step is for LARA’s Corporations, Securities and Licensing Bureau (CSCL) to request a formal administrative hearing date to finalize all of the disciplinary actions. There is no statutory timeline for doing so, but CSCL hopes to complete any open investigations and take any additional formal actions necessary beforehand, so that the matters can be consolidated for purposes of hearing.

MIOSHA Violations - Swanson

From April 10, 2012 to present MIOSHA has conducted six inspections at Swanson Funeral Home which resulted in the issuance of 16 citations with initial penalties of $38,100.  Three of the inspections are still open pending resolution.

LARA investigators would like to hear from you if you have a complaint about a funeral home.

If you have a story for Heather, please email her at hcatallo@wxyz.com or call 248-827-4473.

 

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