Amid rising COVID death toll, funeral homes struggle to keep up | KOB 4

Amid rising COVID death toll, funeral homes struggle to keep up

Megan Abundis
Updated: December 09, 2020 10:30 PM
Created: December 09, 2020 09:34 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Funeral homes across New Mexico are feeling the pressure from the pandemic as they struggle to keep up with the demand for their services. 

"We are falling behind in our ability to receive death certificates in a timely manner, which then leads to not being able to receive cremation permits in a timely manner, which is just creating a backlog,” said Robert Noblin, owner of Noblin Funeral Services in Belen. 

Funeral homes owners have been forced to make tough decisions, like turning away grieving families. Noblin said it has to do with storage capacity, which is causing a spillover in nearby counties. 

"It's heart wrenching to tell a family they have to determine the most important five people in a family that can attend,” he said.

For months, chapels have remained empty while mortuaries remain full. With a statewide COVID death toll of  1,823, Noblin said it’s been tough. 

"We have a lot of families that are delaying services. We have a lot of families who are wanting to stall until they can have the celebration that they feel is fitting for their loved one,” he said.

Noblin said some families have been waiting since April to have a proper memorial. 

"It's disheartening when there are lines of people waiting to get into stores for their basic necessities. My honest opinion is that human life is just as important as loaf of bread—more so,” he said.

"We really are unclear as a profession statewide in what it is that we should and should not be doing,” he added.

Since funeral homes are not classifies as religious entities, they’re forced to limit services to five people regardless of where they’re held. 

"If a family has come together in a church to pray, to sing hymns, to celebrate a life—to me, that is very much a religious ceremony and I'd like to see it as a 25 percent occupancy,” Noblin said.

Noblin said families who aren’t able to come together in a controlled environment will probably do it elsewhere. 

"The answer to me is not more refrigerated trucks. The answer is expediting the processes already in place during a pandemic to keep us on track,” he said.

Those processes include electronic death certifications, which Noblin said more providers should sign up for so they can receive death certificates faster. When death certificates are delayed, it can also cause a delay in cremation permits.

The Funeral Home Association has reached out to the governor multiple times and has not received  a response. 

“I think New Mexicans deserve a little bit of compassion to grieve for their loved ones,” Noblin said.

Counties that are in the yellow tier of the statewide reopening are allowed to increase funeral capacity to 10 people. Counties in the green tier can have gatherings up to 20 people.

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