by JP Schwmon
One funeral home director is of the view that the practice of soliciting business from newly bereaved families at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital should be immediately discontinued without prejudice.
Although Health Minister St. Clair ‘Jimmy’ Prince agrees, the situation – according to Memorial Funeral Home’s Stephen Da Silva – still continues “unabated.”
This, despite the fact that “the authorities have asked us – all the funeral homes – not to be harassing bereaved families like bus conductors at the hospital.
“We complied with their request however other funeral homes are still on the compound daily. Of course, Memorial Funeral Home – through its CEO Mr. Da Silva – has said ‘the authorities have asked us not to do that and we will stand by that and we have stood by it.
“However the touting, as it is called, still goes on unabated. One family member commented: ‘I just lost me loved one and yo pulling me like a dog!’
“It is distasteful hence the reason why we sought to discontinue especially after getting feedback from customers about how people approach them at the hospital,” Da Silva shared.
Equally disturbing, according to Da Silva, is a similar level of touting that is being practiced by the local constabulary.
“The police tend to call Ever Ready Funeral Home to pick up bodies. We’ve written to the Commissioner of Police asking if there is a contract and if there is a contract when it comes to an end let us alternate the picking up of deceased whether it’s at the hospital, at home, accidents or as the case may be.
“We were saying let’s have fair play among the funeral homes. We made recommendations. They wrote and said there’s no policy, no contract with any funeral homes for picking up deceased; the families can make their own decisions. Of course, that’s not happening.
“The police have said that they have an agreement with Mills [Ever Ready Funeral Home] so the families have to call Mills. So if the Commissioner of Police is saying one thing how can the others be saying something else?
“I’m saying that’s just as touting as what goes on at the hospital.”
Da Silva also said that his funeral home is made to submit a letter “each time we go to pick up a deceased” on behalf of any families who have to interface with police officers due to the circumstances of their loved ones’ demise.
This, he claimed, pertains since these officers claim to have never been instructed otherwise by the Commissioner of Police.
“So what we’re having is touting at the hospital and touting, by extension, through the police service,” Da Silva added.
Asbert News Network attempted to verify these claims with Commissioner Colin John. He opted to neither confirm or deny same.
Of the four funeral home service providers who operate across SVG only one enjoy automatic service calls from the police, Da Silva noted.
Two others continue to solicit business at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital even in light of Health Minister Prince’s commitment to “regulate the process.”
While speaking exclusively to ANN on the subject, Minister Prince noted: “There have been complaints by families of harassment by both agents of funeral homes and some workers at the MCMH.
“Since becoming minister I have had a couple of meetings with some key persons in the system with a view to regulating the process. These discussions are ongoing.
“I must say if the allegations are true then this behavior is despicable and totally unacceptable and must stop. I am working with the Permanent Secretary, the Hospital administrator and the funeral homes in this regard.”
Da Silva is not confident that the authorities is treating the situation as a priority since he’s been waiting – for sometime – for word of a meeting, as promised by Cuthbert Knights, Permanent Secretary in the Health Ministry.
“I had a conversation with [PS Knights]. He called me on the phone and I called him back. And he told us if it comes to where he has to get the police to remove us from the hospital he would do that.
“He also told me he’s going to have a meeting with the funeral homes; I didn’t hear anything about it so I called him back. I said I was waiting on the meeting and he told me when he gets a chance he’d deal with it.
“That’s been more than a month now and the others are still down there. It’s been more than two months since we’ve sent anybody down to the hospital and the other funeral homes are still there.
“We had a meeting with the new security company and they promised us they would remove the folks from the other funeral homes but they’re still there. It’s unfair to us.
“Since we’ve moved our workers off the hospital compound we’ve been losing business. Down to this morning they’re still down there. They just told a family that we are not equipped to manage COVID infected bodies and they could deal with them.
“So I had to reassure them that we will abide by the protocols and we would talk to the authorities about what they want us to do and once it’s OK we will comply with their wishes.”
Da Silva appealed to the authorities to judiciously enforce all of the protocols including those pertaining to the size of congregants at funeral services, the length of time such ceremonies are being allowed to run as well as the policies for picking up human remains at the hospital morgue.
“I don’t know what else to do. The others can get away with things but when it comes to us – look we went down to the hospital to pick up a body. The rules are that you go with the relative to the mortuary.
“We did that and they were there waiting. The relative had to go back to the Steward’s office to get something signed by the time she left the security guard tried to evict my staff and while she was doing that another funeral home staff member was sitting right at the mortuary door.
The authorities need to enforce the protocols,” he said.