Prioritise funeral directors for Industry facing driver shortage, but compliant with protocols

MANDEVILLE, Manchester — Funeral director of Patmore’s Funeral Home in Lowe River, Trelawny, Paul Patmore is appealing for members of the funeral industry to be prioritised for the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine as he says undertakers are at risk of contracting the virus when handling bodies.

“I am calling out to the ministry of health to add the funeral directors to the list of people who should take the COVID vaccine. We are the first persons who would be called to pick up a body when someone dies from COVID, and most of our workers have their families to go home to,” Patmore told the Jamaica Observer last Tuesday.

“I think it would be best for us to be allowed to get the vaccine as soon as possible,” he added.

The World Health Organization (WHO) in its interim guidance issued last September said, “Based on current knowledge of the symptoms of COVID-19 and its main modes of transmission (droplet/contact), the likelihood of transmission when handling human remains is low.”

Meanwhile, members of the industry have said that there has been greater adherence to the protocols for burials.

“People are complying with the protocols and I see other funeral homes complying as well,” said Patmore.

The Government recently announced that as at March 24 burials must not exceed 30 minutes and will be allowed Monday to Friday during the hours of 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. The measure will continue until April 13 with a ban on funeral services being maintained.

Only 15 people are being allowed at burials including mourners, members of the clergy, grave diggers and undertakers.

Michael Jones, managing director of Jones Funeral Home and Supplies located in the Corporate Area, told the Observer that the weekend ban on burials has resulted in a shortage of hearse drivers.

“The major funeral homes that had funerals on the weekend, they don’t employ full-time drivers. They employ drivers just for the day [Saturday, Sunday]. Most of these drivers have their nine to five jobs, some are accountants, police, all different walks of life, people come and do part-time to help,” said Jones.

“It puts a pressure on us to find drivers to fill in, but everything is not going to be okay, we have to take time and work with it,” he added.

He said the industry has to adhere to the protocols for public good despite the challenges.

“…This too shall pass. Whatever it is, we will survive…We as funeral directors have to lobby with our customers and do what is best. For example, 10 people want to bury on a Monday and we only have five [drivers], we have to schedule another date, because we don’t have the driver, but we will not charge you for the extra day,” he said.

“If we don’t try and stop the spread of this disease, then we ourselves will contract it too and die, so we have to do what is best not just for ourselves, but for the nation,” he added.

However, president of the Jamaica Association of Certified Embalmers and Funeral Directors Calvin Lyn said his association has not been affected by a shortage of hearse drivers.

“We have not had any report from our membership about that, because, for instance, the weekday burials are alright even if you need additional drivers. I have not had any difficulty from any of my members,” said Lyn.

“Even if those people who have full-time jobs [during the week] and would do a Saturday, Sunday for a funeral home, I don’t see that as a problem. People have to understand the situation that things are not going to be normal,” Lyn added.

He pointed out that burials have been going on without hindrance.

“The information I am getting is that it is running smoother with weekday burials than to have the weekend pressure,” he declared.

Meanwhile, Jones and Patmore said there is a rush on burials to clear the backlog caused by the previous two-week ban on burials and families’ need for closure.

“Nobody is waiting anymore, everybody wants to get the [burial] over and done with, because you can’t get closure without the person [being buried],” said Jones.

“Because of the two-week ban that we had, everybody has to hurry up now and people are anticipating a further lockdown, so everybody wants to get rid [bury] of their [loved ones] bodies now,” said Patmore.

“I don’t see this improve for another three months, so I am encouraging them just to take the opportunity to bury now,” Patmore added.

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