Funeral homes have been forced to adhere to new social distancing guidelines, which have affected visitations and services, but like healthcare facilities across the country, many in the business are starting to experience supply shortages on essential items.
“Everything we need to operate is sold out, so if you don’t have it stockpiled, you won’t get it anytime soon,” said Heather Burton, owner of Burton Funeral Home. “They won’t even give us a date on when it could possibly be restocked or able to ship any.”
Burton, who also serves as Sunflower County Coroner said that supplies like masks, chemicals and disinfectants have been hard to come by.
On Monday, Burton had a shipment of masks delivered to the funeral home, but she said she had to pay five times the normal price for them on Ebay.
Embalming fluid is also in short supply.
“If it goes the way it normally goes, I’ve got enough to last six months, but if we have an influx, we’re going to be hurting,” Burton said. “We’re going to be scrambling trying to find fluid somewhere.”
Burton said most funeral homes order embalming fluid in bulk, because the shipping cost of the flammable fluids is about as much as the product itself.
“I’ve got it on order,” Burton said. “I’ve got six more months on order now.”
Burton said her vault company, which sets up graveside chairs, tents, vaults and the vault lowering devices will no longer set chairs.
“They’ll set the tent, the vault and the lowering device,” Burton said.
Victor Byas, who has owned Byas Funeral Home since 1981 said his operations have cut visitations down to family only.
“We have no more than 25 people,” Byas said. “We want to cut down on public visitation where clusters of people are.”
Byas said that he has three locations, Indianola included, where staff are trained specifically to deal with the deceased who are suspected of having infectious diseases. If there is any suspicion, those bodies are sent to one of the three locations, he said.
Byas and Mark King, owner of Boone Funeral Home, likened the situation to when HIV and AIDS cases began to appear decades ago.
They said much has been learned about those illnesses since then, but the precautions were the same.
“We treat everybody as if they have a contagious disease in our day-to-day practices,” King said. “Let’s say John Doe gets killed in a car wreck. You don’t know if they have AIDS, coronavirus or whatever. That has not changed in our practice at all”
King said the biggest change for Boone has been in the interaction with family.
“We try to keep people separated as much as possible,” King said.
Most funeral homes have already conducted services with some level of social distancing involved.
In most cases, so far, it’s been limited to family only, and they are encouraged not to hug, shake hands or come into contact with one another.
Burton said her funeral home conducted one recently where visitors arrived and signed the guest book and left.
“I’ve known the family for a long time, and the church would have been packed had they been allowed to come,” Burton said.
King said Boone is offering a larger memorial service at a later date for families who wish to celebrate their loved ones, and this is at no additional charge.