Financial difficulties spawned by the novel coronavirus pandemic have pushed two funeral homes to collaborate on offering payment plans for burials which, they say, has resulted in increased business.

In fact, the initiative has proven so successful that the operators of Exodus Funeral Services Limited in Annotto Bay, St Mary, and Garden of Paradise Funeral Home in Kingston have said they are likely to continue the delayed payment system, even after the country recovers fully from the economic impact of the pandemic.

“With what is presently happening, a lot of persons are not working or have fewer working hours, so you’ll find that income is reduced a bit. Hence, when death occurs we realise that they are finding it more difficult to do burials,” Cameka Campbell Green, managing director at Exodus Funeral Services, told the Jamaica Observer, adding that families have been opting to do cremation which, she said, is a bit cheaper.

Campbell Green said the initiative was the brainchild of her husband and Chief Executive Officer Errol Green, and started about four months ago.

She explained that families are required to pay a percentage of the fees before having funeral services, after which funeral directors arrange scheduled payments for the outstanding fees.

“Of course, there are certain measures you have to take and certain documentation required, but it has been working well. We don’t have persons leaving their deceased with us for very long periods any more. We are getting them out in a timely manner and the payment plans seem to be working,” she said, pointing out that she has seen an increase in the number of families requesting the payment plan since it was advertised in the Observer a few weeks ago.

Some of the required documentation, she explained, include proof of income, a letter from a justice of the peace, and a guarantor.

“We have seen a lot of people reaching out. People only come to us if somebody dies. It is not a business where people will pop in to smile and say ‘hello’, they come here for one reason because they have lost someone. So, we wanted persons to know that if they have lost someone we will help them a step further, because if we don’t tell them they are not going to know that we have a plan,” she said.

“What a lot of funeral homes do not look at is the grieving process. That alone can hinder persons from getting closure when somebody dies, because they are thinking about the lack of money, and there are numerous restrictions placed on the industry now, so it is very stressful,” Campbell Green said, adding that, prior to the pandemic, families who faced financial challenges were given the opportunity to pay at a later date without the legalities.

Mark Maitland, general manager at Garden of Paradise Funeral Home, had a slightly different experience.

“People have been making inquiries about the offering and how they can benefit from it, but not many individuals have gone the root of using this particular service as yet. But, based on the inquires and the feedback, we expect that in short order we will be having individuals take up the offer,” he explained.

Based on the regulations established under the Disaster Risk Management Act burials are permitted from Monday to Friday between 9:00 am and 4:00 pm for 30 minutes with 15 people, including 10 mourners, clergy, and gravediggers.

Maitland said, with the implementation of the safety measures, he is expecting more people to use the service offered by his funeral home.

“You’ll realise that COVID-19 is going nowhere, and those who would have had liquid income, it has already [been] expended, and for the most part persons are trying to see what they have left to balance. If there is a facility to help you balance the finances that you have, naturally persons are going to gravitate towards it,” he said.

“It is a facility to assist persons with having the funeral of their choice, saying the goodbye they want to, and not having that burden of paying everything at once,” said Maitland.

Asked whether they intend to extend the payment plan beyond the pandemic, Campbell Green and Maitland said yes.

“Most definitely. It is going to take a while for persons to recover from the financial setbacks that COVID-19 will create,” said Maitand.

Added Campbell Green: “I think we will extend it till after the pandemic because financial challenges with people are ongoing.”

The Observer contacted other funeral homes across the Corporate Area and St Catherine and asked if they offer similar payment arrangements. However, they said they do not, due to bad experiences.

“No, that wasn’t in the pipeline. I have never thought of doing that,” said Christopher Lyew, director at Lee Mason Funeral Home in Red Hills, St Andrew.

“I have never done a contract for a payment plan, but when you give some families the privilege, most times you do not get your money. So, usually, families would have two days before the funeral service to pay in full,” he said.

Director at House of Tranquillity in Kingston, Tennyson Cornwall, shared a similar sentiment, but said he would be willing to work with families based on their challenges.

“After the person is buried the family does not come and settle the fees. We have made arrangements before, but families do not honour their part. However, we will facilitate arrangements with families based on their circumstances,” he said.

Perry’s Funeral Home CEO Peter Perry said his company makes arrangements with families to pay before the funeral. “We have lost millions of dollars already. Once the body goes down [is buried], nobody is coming back to pay you,” he explained.

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