Funeral Professionals from Newtown, CT to Speak at 2013 GFDA Convention

It seems that almost every week another mass fatality incident makes national headlines.  Boston, Aurora, Newtown:  The places and incidents vary, but the effect on individuals and communities is the same.  As funeral professionals, families look to you as their first line of defense in times like this – and even more so when a tragedy is accompanied by heightened media presence.

After an armed gunman shot 26 children in a Newtown, CT school, the despairing town and its grieving families were suddenly ground zero for a media circus.  The usual complications of burying a child or family member are compounded exponentially under such scrutiny.  Under normal circumstances, funeral directors are well-equipped to deal with grief and its effects; unfortunately, with the prevalence of mass casualty events, funeral directors find themselves as profoundly shaken as their communities.

With this in mind, GFDA is hosting three Connecticut funeral professionals who together became the center of communications for families, officials, and news outlets during the week of December 14, 2012.  John F. Cascio, CFDA Executive Director, Pasquale S. Folino, CFSP, 2012-13 CFDA President, and Laura R. Soll, CFDA Communications Director, will host a two-hour continuing education session to recount how more than 160 Connecticut funeral directors stepped forward to work together and support each other through otherwise overwhelming events.

Participants in this continuing education session will discover how CFDA’s leadership developed and implemented a myriad of actions to support its members in serving victims and their families.  The CFDA members will also recount how prior planning on the Association’s part prepared the state for this unprecedented set of challenges.  They will explore the human side of funeral directors dealing with this devastating experience while also serving their families with dignity and privacy.  Additionally, the session will cover how CFDA managed communications with worldwide media to insure that funeral directors were supported during what was a shattering experience for all involved.

For more information on continuing education sessions at the 2013 GFDA Annual Convention, or for registration materials, please click here.

New Crematory Rules Assure the Public of Safe Operation

The Georgia Senate has released its final report for the 2012 legislative study on crematory emissions in Georgia.  The results showcase how funeral service, working in concert with legislators and concerned citizens, achieved meaningful outcomes while taking into consideration the needs of all sides.

In September 2012, Georgia State Senator Steve Henson (D-41) convened the Georgia Senate Crematoria Study Committee.  Over the course of three different meetings last fall, industry professionals, vendors, concerned citizens, and related experts testified on crematory emissions.

Testimony at the hearings highlighted several key themes:

  • Strong scientific evidence exists that clearly demonstrates crematories are NOT a significant source of any type of pollution.  However, that information has not made its way into the public arena in a meaningful way. At the same time, the internet has been a source of misinformation, outdated material, and ill-informed authors of personal blogs, all of which muddy the issue.  Very little is available showing recent emission studies; most studies available to the general public are a number of years old.
  • Because of this, the public tends to have an emotional reaction about the topic.  They tend to fall into two camps:  1) those with a general fear of deceased people who express fear and concern about “the dead,” or “burning;” 2) those who feel that harmful materials come out of the stack and land in close proximity to the retort, including on their homes.
  • Laymen testimony showed concern that crematories are too close to their homes, even when shown extensive data that concrete factories, coal-fired plants, and even canned tuna are more highly significant sources of pollutants than crematories.  It appears this relates back to the general aversion to death and the deceased.
  • We were able to demonstrate that correctly operating modern retorts have extensive emission controls and redundant safety mechanisms. Again, the outdated information available to the general public does not take into account recent emission studies or modern retort technology (which is much improved from 15 to 20 years ago).

Conclusions

As a profession, we need to do a better job of providing data about the safety of crematories — proactively, rather than in the midst of a public battle.

In preparation for the legislative study, GFDA coordinated a private crematory emission test with the help and financial support of crematory owners around the state.  That private study documented little to no emissions from a crematory.  We thank each and every individual who supported that study.

The Senate Final Report generally agrees that crematories are not a significant source of emissions and likely not a health hazard.  At the same time, it recognizes that people want a measure of assurance that they are being protected on an on-going basis.  The resulting recommendations include:

  • registration with the state of the actual equipment installed (make, model, year)
  • an annual inspection of each crematory (already being done prior to study)
  • certification of the funeral director in full and continuous charge
  • a 30-day repair window for any problems, with shut-down if the retort can’t be repaired within that timeframe

There is also a list of companies registered with the State to repair crematories.  That list is not a certification or endorsement of any particular company; instead, it is a notification that those companies are operating in the state on this type of equipment.

The above recommendations went into effect with the Georgia State Board of Funeral Service as a Rule Change, effective January 2013.  The full text of the new Rules and the Final Senate Report are linked below this article for your convenience.

If your funeral director in full and continuous charge has been trained through a recognized source such as the manufacturer, CANA, or other company licensed to sell, operate and/or repair crematories, that person is considered already trained.  This is a one-time training on a particular manufacturer’s equipment and not an on-going continuing education requirement.  If the director in charge it NOT trained, he or she has until the next individual license renewal period to achieve training — March 31, 2014.

If you as a GFDA member need assistance with meaningful data to provide your local government, please contact us.

Crematory Rules as of January 2013

GA Crematory Study, Final Senate Report

Andersonville National Cemetery, a National Historic Site Available to GA Veterans

Marine at Andersonville

Andersonville National Cemetery, established as such in 1865, began as the final resting place for soldiers who perished while being held as prisoners of war at Camp Sumpter. The cemetery connects the past to the present by continuing to serve as an honored burial place for modern-day veterans, their spouses, and dependents.

Andersonville, with 21,000 interments to date, is one of only two active National Cemeteries operated by the National Park Service.  Burial benefits provided for Veterans at no cost to their family include:

  • a gravesite
  • opening and closing of the grave
  • perpetual care
  • an upright headstone
  • a burial flag, and
  • a Presidential Memorial Certificate

A grave liner is required but not provided by Andersonville National Cemetery. Cremated remains are buried in the same manner and with the same honor as casketed remains. Spousal and/or dependent burials in a National Cemetery include — again, at no cost to the family — burial with their Veteran, inscription of name(s) and date(s) of birth on the Veteran’s headstone, and perpetual care.  Eligible spouse(s) and dependent(s) may access these burial benefits even if they predecease their Veteran.

At a family’s request, their funeral home or acting agent may arrange military honors with the branch of service in which the Veteran served.  All branches of service are within driving distance of Andersonville National Cemetery.

For more information about ANC or to set up a site visit, please contact Kim Robins, Cemetery Director, at 229-924-0343, ext. 112.  Kim is also available via email at kim_robins@nps.gov.

Georgia Funeral Delegation Meets with Capitol Hill

The GFDA Executive Board and other funeral directors in Georgia converged March 5-6, 2013 with hundreds of funeral professionals from around the country to present concerns to our senators and congressmen in Washington.  The NFDA Advocacy Summit convenes annually in DC to meet with elected officials and discuss key federal issues affecting the profession.

This year, two major topics topped the agenda:

1.  Preserve the Current SSI and Medicaid Exclusion for Irrevocable Funeral and Burial Trusts, and Certain Life Insurance Benefits and Annuities

Under current regulations, the Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI) provides that funds set aside in an irrevocable funeral or burial trust, and life insurance benefits and annuities that are irrevocably assigned to a funeral or burial trust or a funeral provider to pay for funeral and burial expenses, are not treated as resources when determining an applicant’s eligibility for SSI.

In addition to their own requirements, Medicaid statutes direct states to use the SSI definition of resources and exclusions from resources for determining eligibility for Medicaid. Consequently, applicants seeking Medicaid are able to prefund funeral and burial arrangements without adversely impacting their eligibility.

By providing this exclusion, Congress, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA) have recognized that funeral planning is good social and public policy, especially for low-income individuals. Without this exclusion, many SSI and Medicaid recipients would die without adequate funds for a dignified funeral and burial.

Planning and funding funerals and burials in advance saves federal, state and local governments money.  Without this exclusion, state and local governments would be forced to allocate public monies to fund this expense. This is problematic because many state and local governments are eliminating or severely reducing indigent funeral and burial funds due to current economic conditions.

As funeral directors serving these individuals and their families in our communities, we urge Congress to preserve these exclusions during the upcoming budget discussions because they are good social and government policies.

2.  Require the Federal Government to Adopt a Comprehensive Mass Fatality Management Plan

(Note:  Georgia has already enacted such a plan with funeral directors as part of it.)

As a result of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, the anthrax event in Washington, D.C., the natural disasters caused by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Sandy — not to mention the recent tragedies in Aurora, CO, and Newtown, CT — the whole concept and definition of mass fatality management has changed dramatically. Moreover, the threat of a national pandemic flu with deadly consequences, such as the avian flu, have exposed the lack of and need for a comprehensive federal mass fatality plan that incorporates and coordinates all of the mass fatality resources of the federal, state, tribal and local governments, as well as those of the private sector. This will ensure the coordinated and orderly recovery, identification, processing, notification and conduct of funeral services and final dispositions for those who died from and during a natural or man-made mass fatality event.

A mass fatality management plan must be developed and included as part of the National Response Plan (NRP) and any federal agency response plan or policy. Such a plan should include:

  • Policies and procedures dealing with the dignified recovery, storage, identification and processing of remains, as well as the timely issuance of death certificates and the orderly conduct of funerals and final dispositions.
  • The establishment of a single agency and identification of one official responsible for implementing and managing the mass fatality component of any disaster response plan.
  • Establishment of a national missing person’s database and locater for displaced family members and for those remains that have been recovered and identified.
  • Funeral homes, cemeteries, crematories and morgues and their suppliers should be included as a priority for logistical and workforce support, including vaccinations during emergency situations that may involve quarantines, restrictions on transportation, travel and public gatherings, as well as the conduct of the funerals and final dispositions.
  • Emergency licensing reciprocity for medical examiners, coroners, funeral directors and other licensed funeral service personnel to allow them to support the needs of fatality services in other jurisdictions and provide limited liability protection and worker’s comp benefits for any negligent actions while acting in a volunteer capacity.