Where is the dignity and integrity in the death and burial business?
“Today 40 percent are going with cremation because they can’t afford to bury.”
— Avis Boyd-Gaines
By Starla Vaughns Cherin
(Part IV of a Four Part Series)
Charged with bodies in the wrong graves, crushing caskets to increase burial space, removing remains without notifying families and disposing of headstones and burial containers in lakes, Service Corporation International (SCI) branded Dignity Memorial owns 65 funeral homes and cemeteries in South Florida.
Forest Lawn Gardens Memorial Central near the African American Research Library and Cultural Center is a part of the Dignity Memorial Network.
The suit filed by Eagan Avenatti, LLP in 2012 comes 11 years after 350 families successfully sued SCI for the same practices at Menorah Gardens in Broward and Palm Beach Counties. The suit settled in 2009 paid $100 million to the families.
SCI funeral workers in Chicago, Ill. continue a six-month strike from SCI over pensions and health care in what is now a lockout. Workers protest contract changes like fired for “being intimidating” and having only one person on home removals. The increase of corporate monopoly in the bereavement care industry signals to consumers a decrease in quality and services.
Being especially vulnerable during the death of a loved one bereavement care in the U.S. is a $17 billion a year industry that excludes related costs of headstones and crypts. In a decade, the median cost for an adult funeral increased 35 percent. National Funeral Directors Association states median funeral cost for 2012 is $8,343.
Consumers who do their research can decrease these costs and have federal regulations to back them up. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) oversees the Funeral Rule which regulates how funeral providers deal with consumers.
The law requires funeral establishments to give an itemized statement of your choices, including estimates of any costs that are unknown at the time. The statement must include charges for outside vendor services arranged by the funeral establishment such as flowers, clergy honoraria, newspaper notices, music, etc.
Make sure the statement includes only those items you have selected. If you have chosen a funeral package, the statement should describe all the goods and services that are included. Be sure you have the total dollar amount in writing before you sign the contract. (See below full consumer bill of rights)
This includes the mortuary mandatory service fee, administrative charges covering paper, coordination with cemeteries, etc. Broward and Palm Beach County homes charge service fees ranging from $250 to $2,370. Chains average $1,564 or 55 percent more than the independents’ average of $1,009.
“The fee has no relation to the goods and services you select,” said Lisa Carlson, executive director of the Funeral and Memorial Societies of America, a national consumer group. “Consumers have no choice but to pay it and no control over that part of their expenses.”
Funeral Consumer Alliance a national nonprofit consumer organization advocates planning but not paying ahead. Members pay a onetime $25 fee for help with funeral planning and South Florida’s chapter has negotiated with some local funeral homes for member discounts.
“The Funeral Rule consumer bill of rights lets you pick item by item a la carte,” says Josh Slocum national president FCA. “You are not obligated to buy a package. Mix and match. Very little is required purchase and its all at the customer’s discretion. Pick what is meaningful to you and your survivors and budget and then shop around to five or six funeral homes doing price comparisons. You will find a huge range of prices regarding funerals. We have a psychological barrier because we do not like to think of death. Prices do not correlate with quality.”
Cremations are up 42 per-cent in the U.S. in part due to families living farther apart and the economy. “Direct cremation without memorial services may cost between $600-$800 but in West Palm Beach SCI will charge $2240 for the same,” says Barbara Hatzfeld President Southeast Florida CFA.
On the internet a cremation for $400 was the lowest price. If you plan to hold a viewing first before the cremation, ask the funeral home if you can rent an attractive casket for the ceremony. You can purchase a casket or cremation urn from a source other than your funeral home, such as another funeral home, a local casket store or an online outlet — often for far less money.
“Today 40 percent are going with cremation because they can’t afford to bury,” says Avis Boyd-Gaines owner of James C. Boyd Funeral Homes. “With-in the last two to three years cremations have increased. At one time African Americans did not believe in cremation. I got here in 2007 and we were not doing that many. Then in order for cremation the medical examiner gives a cremation number. It has been six years now and a cremation number cost $55, now that Black people are doing it. When Whites have been doing it for years, now they want to capitalize on it.”
Green burials are also trending. The ban of expensive vaults, toxic embalming chemicals and the use of wood caskets or other biodegradable materials returns the body and burial materials back to the earth naturally. The loved ones remains can be interred at the Glendale Nature Preserve in DeFuniak Springs, FL for $1,800 or cremated remains for $200. Florida also leads the nation in sea reef burials where the cremated body is interred in a 60-pound urn for about $1000 and lowered into the sea.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) oversees what is commonly known as The Funeral Rule, which regulates how funeral providers must deal with consumers. Among its provisions:
· Upon request, funeral homes must provide an itemized price list of all their goods and services, whether you call (even anonymously) or visit in person.
· You have the right to choose among their offerings (with certain state-mandated exceptions) and are not required to purchase package deals containing unwanted items.
· Prior to purchasing a casket or outer burial container from a funeral home, they must share descriptions and prices before showing you stock on hand — that way you’ll know whether less expensive alter-natives are available.
· You have the right to purchase certain items, such as caskets and cremation urns, from outside vendors; and by law, the funeral home cannot assess handling fees.
· Providers that offer cremations must make alternative containers (besides caskets) available.
You can’t be charged for embalming procedures you didn’t authorize, unless they’re required by state or local law (in most cases, direct cremation, immediate burial or refrigeration are acceptable alternatives).
Veterans, their immediate family members, those who served on active duty in the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, and certain civilians who’ve provided military-related service may be entitled to burial at a national cemetery with a grave marker. Burial for eligible individuals is free, but families are responsible for funeral home expenses and transportation to the cemetery.
· A $255 lump-sum death benefit that can be used for funeral expenses is available to surviving spouses or minor children of eligible workers who paid into Social Security.
To see a video (unrelated) to this story please visit: our face-book page Westside Gazette Newspaper and http://www.insiderexclusive.com/upcoming/justice-in-america-funeral-fraud-investigation