The recent problems in two Detroit funeral homes comes down to unclaimed remains: bodies, fetuses, and cremated remains.
The Executive Director of the Michigan Funeral Directors Association, Phil Douma says this is a unique problem.
“I think we have a systemic problem within Detroit and Wayne County more generally,” Douma says.
He says in addition to unclaimed remains at the Cantrell, and Perry Funeral Homes, the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office had 200 stacked bodies inside the morgue in 2014. They were unclaimed and going nowhere.
“This is not a problem in the rest of the state,” Douma says.
There are systems in place that cover the transfer of remains from a hospital to a funeral home to a final disposition that is documented with a paper trail when it is followed.
A spokesman with the state office of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) says, when they inspect a funeral home, a log of remains is checked, but not complete paperwork.
Douma agrees, saying, “Correct. There’s no state oversight of that process. And, as I said, this is an area that our association would be ready, willing, and able to assist, to work with, policymakers.”
The spokesman for LARA tells 7 Action News for the entire state they have three inspectors and one manager, and they inspect all funeral homes every three years.
Douma responded to that by saying, “we’re willing to work with the state on a solution. I don’t know what the right number is.”
When asked if the horrific cases of unclaimed remains could have been prevented in Detroit Douma answered, “I believe so.”
So revisions in oversight could be made in the wake of the Detroit cases.
Julia Dale, director of the Corporations, Securities and Commercial Licensing Bureau (CSCL), released a statement regarding how funeral inspections are done.
Part of the statement reads, "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 when providing final arrangements."
Dale added that licensing inspectors "conduct a thorough investigation."
Those investigations include:
- Validating the establishment and its manager’s mortuary science licenses, that they are active, and that they are properly posted.
- Ensuring death certificates are filed timely.
- A review of logs pertaining to cremated remains and bodies currently at the establishment.
- A physical inspection of the home and its required equipment and ensuring it is clean and sanitary and in good working order.
- Validating the establishment’s medical waste producer’s registration and plan.
- Ensuring there are no misleading advertisements.
- Ensuring that all individuals engaging in the practice of funeral directing or embalming at the funeral home hold an active license to do so.
- Review of criminal records if an individual licensee is convicted of a felony to determine if that individual lacks good moral character.
- Making necessary referrals to other agencies such as MIOSHA or local building, health, or environmental agencies, when warranted.
- Making referrals to governmental agencies with criminal law enforcement authority where violations of a criminal law is believed to have occurred.