Coping with the death of a family member from Covid-19 is already a traumatic experience.
But the process for disposing of the body after death has left one family further traumatised and stuck with a $16,000 bill.
A relative of a Covid-19 patient who died earlier this month said she was left confused after the death of her father-in-law.
The patient was admitted to the San Fernando General Hospital for treatment of a pre-existing condition. While there, he tested positive for Covid-19 and was transferred to the Augustus Long Hospital in Pointe-a-Pierre, where he died a few days later, his daughter-in-law told the Sunday Express on condition of anonymity.
The family was shocked to learn the hospital had already made arrangements for the disposal of the man’s body when they were contacted. A funeral agency was engaged and, with little input from the family, the body was taken away to be cremated.
The family was told that due Covid-19 restrictions, they would not be able to view the cremation or participate in any way in the disposal of their relative’s body, which had to be done as quickly as possible. The funeral agency offered a memorial service to be held at a later date, as part of its funeral package costing just over $16,000.
The relative told the Sunday Express she was confused by this, as the family was not given the choice to select a funeral agency. Had they been given a choice, they may have been able to select one they could afford, she argued.
She suggested that if the hospital assumed responsibility for selecting a funeral agency, they should have also assumed responsibility for the cost.
The Sunday Express contacted the funeral agency last week and was told this was the normal procedure for handling Covid-19 deaths.
The representative said the funeral agency liaises with the hospital and collects the bodies in adherence with Covid-19 protocols.
Asked if families are given a choice to select a funeral home they can afford, the representative said it was one of the few agencies authorised by the Ministry of Health to handle Covid-19 deaths.
“Not all funeral agencies can do it,” she stated, noting there were additional risks involved in handling a Covid-19 death, as the virus can still be spread from a body.
She said the family is not allowed to view the cremation.
Regarding the cost, the representative said this was inclusive of fees to collect the body from the hospital, cremation fees and the cost of the memorial service later on.
Asked whether opting out of the memorial service would decrease the cost for families who cannot afford the $16,000 fee, the representative said the memorial service is a mandatory part of the funeral package.
The Sunday Express last week sought clarification from the Health Ministry on the procedure following a Covid-19 death, but received no response.
When contacted, Minister Terrence Deyalsingh indicated twice that he was tired, and directed queries to the ministry’s communications department.
Questions were sent to the ministry’s corporate communications manager, Candace Alcantara, asking whether it was the normal procedure for the hospital, and not the family, to select a funeral home, who are the approved funeral agencies authorised to handle Covid-19 deaths, the criteria used to approve specific funeral agencies and what happens if a family cannot afford the funeral fees.
Alcantara acknowledged receipt, but no further response was forthcoming.
During a news conference at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s yesterday, Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram was asked to provide an account of what takes place after a Covid-19 patient dies. “I have been avoiding, to be honest, giving a ball-by-ball because of the nature of what happens after someone dies by Covid-19,” he said.
“Suffice it to say there has been a guideline in place since March which the funeral agencies are aware of, the heads of pathology are aware of and all the hospitals that treat Covid-19 are aware of as well... The guidelines are available. I don’t want to go into the details because I don’t know the details, for the families that have lost loved ones, would help them any at this point.”
Parasram said there is an approved list of funeral agencies authorised to handle Covid-19 deaths.
“There is an assignment based on the (regional health authorities) so the RHAs would have had a list... they would have met with the funeral agencies to determine who had the capacity to meet with the criteria set out in the guidelines to ensure that the proper protocol can be followed and the RHAs, mainly the North Central Regional Health Authority, together with some others, I think South West, would have been putting things in place through their normal procurement process to get those agencies.
“But those agencies are the agencies that will have to deal with the Covid-19 bodies. Not every agency can do it and do it to a standard that we are happy with at this point.”
Asked who pays the bill for the disposal of a body after a Covid-19 patient dies, Parasram said he believed the RHA did.
The relative who spoke with the Sunday Express maintained the family was billed by the funeral agency. The Sunday Express was shown the bill from the agency, indicating the $16,000 fee.
In March, Parasram had outlined the procedure following a Covid-19 death, saying the bodies would go directly from the funeral agency to the grave site or crematorium, and there would be no home or church visits.
He said then that the ministry had consulted with the various religious groups on the established protocol, in keeping with the World Health Organisation’s guidelines.
PM: I’ve been
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday acknowledged the difficulty for families not being able to have a proper send-off for their loved ones. “Persons passing on at this time, there is the additional trauma of the rest of us in the national community not being able to see them off in the way we have been accustomed to, to bring closure to their passing. That, too, is very painful,” he said.
“I, myself, have experienced that with my eldest brother who didn’t pass from Covid, but he passed during the time when a funeral, which is our way of treating with a passing, is now involving only less than a dozen people. So every time I see a passing of someone, I know there is a family going through what I’ve been through.”
To date, 51 people have died from Covid-19 in T&T.