While there may be some extenuating circumstances that may allow for some of the complaints listed in this story, I know first hand that some embalmers don’t clean up after themselves and some funeral home owners try to cut corners without anyone noticing.
With my experience, I’d say it wasn’t more than 1 in fourty or fifty funeral homes, but there are times when embalming tables are not cleaned and bodies or other remains are not properly disposed or stored.
I found that a one time deal, I could over look, but every funeral home I ever went to always knew that they could get inspected any time unexpectedly, so they always kept everything clean and neat. Of course, California may have even more strict laws about funeral homes than a state like Missouri, but I doubt by much.
It’s part of the reason I didn’t have too much trouble doing mortuary transport, because most funeral homes were kept clean. The embalmer always rinsed his table when he was done. Dressing tables were always wiped down. You didn’t have unrefrigerated bodies laying around that weren’t embalmed. It’s just a matter of doing the job right. This story is probably one of the reasons a lot of people are creeped out by dead bodies.
State seeks to shutter mortuary
State officials are suing to force a Columbia funeral home to close, alleging that three recent inspections uncovered gruesome conditions there, including a body that had been decaying in an electrical room for nearly a year.
Other health standards violations cited at Warren Funeral Chapel in a suit filed in Boone County Circuit Court included undertakers’ reusing caskets, the storage of human organs in a garbage bag, the reuse of dirty embalming tools and a blood-covered embalming table.
“There’s no question that what happened here needs to be stopped,” Attorney General Jay Nixon said in a prepared statement. “The defendants need to be stopped from practicing as funeral directors and embalmers until or unless they can verifiably demonstrate they can operate within the law.”
Harold Warren Sr., 75, and Harold Warren Jr., 48, are both named as respondents in the suit. For years, Warren Sr. was the funeral director in charge of the chapel at 12 E. Ash St. until he turned over the directorship to his son, Warren Jr., in February.
The suit contends the Warrens’ operation “constitutes a substantial probability of danger to the public health, safety and welfare of the employees and clients of Warren Funeral Chapel, and of the general public.”
Warren Sr. was Columbia’s first black city councilman. Warren Funeral Chapel has been operated by the family for 38 years and is one of the only minority-owned funeral homes in Mid-Missouri. The business previously occupied the former residence of J.W. “Blind” Boone.
“I’m baffled,” said Lorenzo Lawson, who officiated at many funerals arranged by Warren Sr. “It is an institution in the African-American community and to hear something like that is pretty devastating.”
The alleged violations caught the attention of state inspectors after complaints about a July 5 visitation service for George Edwards. In the days before the service, relatives said, the smell of a decaying body was evident.
On July 2, “when we went to make the final arrangements, it was just sort of a faint smell,” recalled Edwards’ aunt, Edith Prince. The next day, “when we went for the prayer service, it was just horrendous. And then Saturday, when we got there for the” visitation “service, it still smelled, but Mr. Warren was walking around with air fresheners in his pocket, and they had scented candles burning. He acted like nothing was wrong.”
Prince said when she complained that the family spent $4,650 for the service and expected better treatment, Warren Sr. denied the odor existed. “Some people said they got sick. It was kind of nauseating,” she said. “But I tried to focus on the ceremony itself and not pay attention.”
Lawson, who officiated at the Edwards service, confirmed there was an odor of decay.
In a July 10 interview with the Tribune, Warren Sr. denied any problems with the Edwards funeral.
“People are fearful and their mind wanders,” he said of the odor complaints. “I stand by it 100 percent. I burn a deodorant in here, and you may smell the deodorant, but you don’t smell no body in here or nothing like that.”
Asked whether the odor might have come from another body at the funeral home, he said no. “There wasn’t another body in the building.”
But state inspectors found otherwise. The suit alleges that on July 11, inspectors for the state Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors discovered the body of a woman, who had died Sept. 9 of hepatitis B, hepatitis C and alcoholic hepatitis. The body was zipped inside a double body bag and stored in an electrical room. The body, according to the suit, was “in an advanced stage of decay,” and was neither embalmed nor refrigerated.
Warren Sr. said the woman’s body had recently been moved from another casket. When investigators opened the casket, they reported a strong odor and a cockroach ran out. Inside, they saw bodily fluids collecting alongside powder formaldehyde. The Boone County medical examiner’s office later had the body cremated.
In subsequent inspections, investigators allegedly found evidence the Warrens were routinely storing bodies without refrigeration or embalming fluid for more than 24 hours, in violation of state law. The suit alleges the funeral chapel “does not have a refrigeration unit for the storing of human remains.”
On July 16, inspectors allegedly found a garbage bag containing human organs inside a casket alongside another body. Warren Sr., according to the lawsuit, said the organs were from a person who had been buried the previous day. He told inspectors he had forgotten to bury the organs. The embalmers board alleges the organs belonged to an unknown body.
The suit alleges that Warren Sr. routinely handled bodies with his bare hands and used soiled instruments. It also alleges the funeral chapel “has failed and/or refused to properly guard against contagious, infectious and communicable diseases” as mandated by state law.
The attorney general is asking a circuit judge to issue an injunction ordering the Warrens to close the chapel until they can show they can operate within state law. In addition, the state alleges unfair trade practices by Warren Funeral Chapel and seeks a trial that could result in court-ordered fines, as well as damages for anyone harmed by the Warrens’ business practices.
Reached by phone last night, Warren Sr. declined to comment about the suit, saying he had received nothing in writing from Nixon’s office.
Would you do removals or do other work for a funeral home like this?