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Health and Welfare Committee to recommend revised guidelines for pauper burial policy

The General Health and Welfare Committee approved revised guidelines for the pauper burial policy during its Feb. 9 meeting.
Goals in simplifying the process were to centralize dispatch of rotation calls through 911 dispatch; monitor the distribution of rotation calls among county firms; and eliminate funeral homes delaying removal pending approval.
Input for the changes was received from the county attorney and officials, and participating funeral homes.
“More than anything else, we want to make sure everyone understands the process,” said Mayor Dan Eldridge.
“I see myself as having two responsibilities,” Eldridge said, “to ensure the deceased receives respectful treatment, and to make sure the taxpayers are looked after.”
According to the proposed guidelines, when a Washington County resident who has a relationship with a funeral provider dies, the funeral provider will be contacted directly.
The funeral home will have the responsibility to assess and communicate the family’s means to pay.
In cases where the deceased Washington County resident does not have a relationship with a funeral provider, the county’s 911 office will be contacted. The 911 service will contact participating funeral homes on a rotation basis and track those calls.
As soon as possible, the county will research bank accounts, real estate records and car registrations. Discovery of assets to pay final expenses will exclude the case from county-assistance funding, and the assets will be used to pay the final expenses.
Funeral homes participating in the rotation process that refuse a pick-up call may lose the ability to receive county indigent funding assistance in the future. Funeral providers may not delay pick-up pending pre-approval. Calls will be monitored by the county office to ensure parity among participating funeral homes.
If a Washington County resident dies and that individual and their family, if any, has no funds for burial, those final expenses can be paid by the county’s indigent fund for cremation only. Remains that are not claimed after 30 days will be interred in the county cemetery.
Veterans eligible for burial in the U.S. National Cemetery, Mountain Home are permitted ground burial therein. Minors also are eligible for ground burial, but payments will not be made to firms that do not charge for child services.
T. Preston McKee II, president of Morris-Baker Funeral Home and Cremation Services, said his company handled 12 pauper burials during the last calendar year and only a few of the families objected to cremation.
He added that the cremation burial service is just as dignified as the ground burial.
“There are a lot of impediments to ground burial when finances are low,” McKee said. Casket and burial can be upwards of $4,000, which doesn’t include the cemetery fees for opening and closing the grave.
At one time, the county offered to put the $600 it pays for cremation toward a ground burial if the family member objected to the cremation.
Commissioner David Tomita disagreed with this practice, saying it could potentially be a $600 subsidy to everyone in the county.
In addition to the new policy stating the county will pay only for cremation, signatures will be required from family members on affidavits from the county and the funeral homes stating their agreement that the body will be cremated.
Commissioner Joe Grandy made a motion to accept the revised guidelines, and Commissioner Joe Sheffield seconded.
County Attorney Johnson Rambo said he will prepare a resolution to present during the Feb. 28 meeting of the Commission because approval would mean the adoption of a county policy.