New York plans to ease requirements for funeral directors as bodies pile up

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Hart Island, the place that served as a potter's field in New York for 150 years | AP Photo

Hart Island, the place that served as a potter’s field in New York for 150 years | Seth Wenig / AP Photo

NEW YORK – Governor Andrew Cuomo plans to allow out-of-state funeral directors to work in New York City under license from existing practitioner, move to ease passage of chilled morgue bodies to cemeteries said a state official. POLITICO.

The decree could go hand in hand with an existing effort on the part of the state’s Funeral Directors Association to recruit funeral directors from northern New York to help their overworked colleagues. Overcrowded funeral homes lack space to process the bodies, locking them in to shorten mourning rituals – an idea no one seems to like.

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“All of these families want to have a funeral. And they can’t, ”said Anthony Cassieri, who runs the Brooklyn Funeral Home and Cremation Service in Brownsville. “You cannot celebrate someone’s life. It’s a sin. It’s really a sin. “

On Wednesday evening, the state association issued a “call to action” to funeral directors across the state asking them to come to New York to help care for the dead, said Mike Lanotte, executive director and CEO of New York State Funeral. Association of directors.

Lanotte’s action is both a call to arms and a death knell, while the death toll from coronaviruses in New York exceeded Friday the death toll that the state suffered on September 11, 2001.

“I spoke to funeral directors who have been practicing for 30 or 40 years who said they have never seen anything like this in their lives,” said Lanotte.

Covid-19 killed 1,562 people in New York on Thursday evening. The city’s four crematoria can now operate 24 hours a day. The city has established at least 45 mobile morgues to supplement the existing body storage capacity. The US Department of Defense is reported to have sent dozens of mortuary officers to help manage the new mortuaries.

In Hart Island, the city’s potter’s field administered by the Correction Department, the number of burials has increased from 30 or less per week to 100 per week, the department confirmed.

“If everyone stops dying for two months, we will continue to work like this for six to eight months,” said Cassieri.

Funeral directors are a key link in the chain from coronavirus victims to their last resting places. When a patient dies, the funeral directors talk to the family, provide them with coffins, arrange the revivals or funerals they can and then transport the deceased to the cemetery or crematorium.

The number of dead is overwhelming for their systems, as is the shortage of workers in crematoria and cemeteries, where workers fall ill and where operators, in an effort to protect their workers, have displaced people in teams.

Back in Covid-19, when Cassieri needed to cremate a body, he called the crematorium and brought the body there as he pleased. Now the crematoriums need an appointment, sometimes more than a week in advance.

Cassieri believes that the state should grant funeral directors access to mobile crematoria, so that “we can start cremating our own work,” he said. He imagines installing one in a parking lot or garage.

To this end, he sought the assistance of Council member Justin Brannan, who represents Bay Ridge, and forwarded his request to the authorities.

“The sad reality is that they have 40 or 50 people who need to be woken up in their funeral homes and they have nowhere to store the bodies,” said Brannan.

Currently, state law restricts cremation to cemeteries, according to David Fleming, director of legislative affairs for the New York State Association of Cemeteries.

But mobile crematoria – or “aftershocks,” as they are called – are “part of the mass casualty planning that has been around for some time,” said Fleming. “These retorts are available and would most likely be run by cemeteries and employees of the Department of Defense. “

Fleming said the city’s four crematoria “are currently around capacity” and had to send bodies out of the city.

He suggested that funeral directors could help increase this capacity by enclosing the bodies in cardboard “cremation containers” rather than heavy wooden coffins.

“Obviously, the flame must consume the coffin, as well as the body,” said Fleming. “It slows us down considerably when funeral directors sell ornate coffins to people during a pandemic.”

However, some capacity issues are more difficult to control. Funeral, cemetery and crematorium workers do not just treat those killed by the coronavirus. They are also infected.

It’s not known how long a coronavirus-riddled body remains infectious, but workers get sick.

“The belief is that you really have to expel the droplets or that sort of thing, [but] these things can still happen with the deceased, “said Fleming. “We had funeral directors who contracted Covid-19.”

In the absence of a harmonious protocol for the treatment of the dead, the authorities may have no other recourse than to send bodies to the field of potters in the town of Hart Island.

“Hart Island has a lot of burial space and the city’s burials are much faster than cremation,” said Melinda Hunt, president of the Hart Island Project, who advocates for better access to the island. ” [The Department of Correction] can bury 25 bodies in one hour on Hart Island. This will be the only option for many Covid-19 victims, as there is not enough capacity in crematoriums or private cemeteries. Funeral directors will not be able to manage the number of bodies. “

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