As a 25-year funeral industry veteran, former second-generation funeral home owner and co-founder of a cremation society, I have been passionate about avoiding mistakes my entire career. Running a mistake-free operation requires attention to every detail and constant communication – with team members, with families and with business partners.
By Ben Farnstrom, vice president-business development, Foundation Partners Group
These are challenging times and the urge to cut corners to keep pace with daily demands can throw even the most dedicated and meticulous team members off track. Some of the most common mistakes involve the cremation of personal belongings, such as wallets and jewelry. More serious errors involve cremating the wrong body or mixing up cremated remains after the cremation process. We work in an emotionally charged environment and mistakes like these can have painful consequences.
The good news is our industry has top-notch training resources that can help us prepare our teams to provide the highest quality, mistake-free service to families.
While there’s no replacement for on-the-job training and experience, the Cremation Association of North America offers a phenomenal training program that ensures that you and your employees are well-versed in the most current crematory operations methods, machinery and best practices.
In my experience, there are three keys to keeping everyone focused and error free: (1) slow down and document everything, (2) establish company-specific best practices and (3) communicate, communicate, communicate. Here are the best practices that our Foundation Partners Group teams follow from the first call to delivery of cremated remains to family members.
- It all begins with the first call and transportation from the place of death to the funeral home. We record all personal belongings and ask a witness to sign that these belongings were on the decedent before the transfer. Once the body reaches the funeral home or centralized decedent care center, the inventory is again logged and double-checked by a team member to confirm that those belongings have come into our care.
- The funeral director obtains the personal belongings inventory and reviews it with the family during the arrangement process. Once the family agrees to the list of personal belongings that came into our care, they sign a personal belongings chain of custody form, which confirms that they received those belongings from the funeral provider. These signatures should be in the following order on the personal belongings chain of custody form:
- The removal tech who did the first inventory.
- The witness (family member, hospice worker, morgue attendant, hospital nurse, etc.) who confirmed that those personal belongings left the place of death with the funeral home transport driver.
- Signature from another representative that the belongings came to the funeral home and have been logged in.
- Signature that the family received the belongings.
- Final signature that the funeral director or funeral representative released those items to the family.
- After following these steps regarding personal belongings, discuss with the family what they want cremated and make sure it is clearly documented on the cremation authorization form and initialed by the legal next of kin/family members in charge of arrangements.
- Ask the family if the decedent has a pacemaker. If so, highlight that on the cremation authorization form as the pacemaker needs to be removed prior to cremation.
- The family should initial or sign to confirm all decedent preparations, including personal belongings, pacemakers and metal implants.
- Prior to every cremation, the crematory operator must check all paperwork. When I was a funeral home owner, our best practice was to ensure that the funeral director meeting with the family was the primary person to start the paperwork for cremation. They must make sure the crematory is fully aware of what needs to be cremated, what cannot be cremated, and if the decedent has a pacemaker or any other metal implant devices.
- The crematory operator receives that paperwork, reviews each item and initials that all those items are accurate and inspected for compliance.
- When it’s time to remove the decedent from the cooler, make sure you have identified the correct decedent. Get a second set of eyes on this process. Our form has a place for two associates to initial that all personal belongings have been released, they have identified the correct decedent and a pacemaker/ other metal has been removed
- An internal cremation ID tag is then assigned to the decedent. This cremation ID tag certifies that the decedent being cremated has been positively identified as the correct person. That ID tag is placed on or in the retort during cremation and placed on the cremation bag following cremation. Most states have state ID requirements, which require that a second tag accompany the cremated remains to guarantee that the decedent is who we say it is. Typically, the state tag is for the death certificate and the internal tag is for the funeral cremation records.
- Once the cremation begins, the crematory operator completes the task of signing all forms and documenting the date and time of this process.
- After cremation, the operator cools the cremated remains and processes them, using a zip tie to affix the state and internal ID tags to the bag that contains the cremated remains.
- Finally, proper ID labels are placed in two areas. One label is placed on the bag that holds the cremated remains; it lists the name of the decedent that is on the permit/death certificate (written exactly as it was given to us from legal next of kin), date of death, date of cremation, our internal ID tag number and the funeral home that requested the cremation. Adding the state ID number here as well gives the family an additional guarantee that the cremated remains are indeed those of their loved one. The second ID label is placed on the urn or the container going back to the family, cemetery or other assigned place of disposition given by the legal next of kin.
While this process is extremely detailed and may seem laborious, funeral business owners who make sure their staffs follow proper protocol will save themselves a world of headaches. The bottom line is that rushing causes human error. Slowing down, getting two sets of eyes on everything, and documenting the entire process with signatures will result in the best, most compassionate service to families and the highest job performance and satisfaction for your teams.