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13 Investigates: Colorado doesn’t require individual license for funeral directors or embalmers

PENROSE, Colo. (KRDO) -- Jon Hallford has two business licenses for his funeral homes in Penrose and Colorado Springs that are now either expired or suspended following the discovery of 115 decomposing bodies. But Hallford himself was never licensed as a funeral director, because in Colorado he didn’t have to be.

RELATED: Over 115 decomposing bodies found inside Colorado funeral home, investigation underway

The Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) only has the authority to limit funeral home businesses, according to state law. It’s why the department issued a cease and desist order when it found out the Return to Funeral Home in Penrose was operating with an expired license.

The department also suspended Hallford’s business license at the Return to Nature Funeral Home location in Colorado Springs after it found Hallford was “guilty of deliberate and willful violations of the Mortuary Science Code,” including attempting to conceal the improper storage of human remains at the Penrose location.

However, the department told 13 Investigates it doesn't “regulate individuals tied to funeral homes and crematories.” This is because Colorado is the only state in the country that doesn’t require professionals in the funeral home and crematory industry to be licensed.

“In Colorado, you can work at PetSmart today and tomorrow get hired as an embalmer,” said Blanca Eberhardt, who has been an embalmer for 25 years.

Eberhardt has been an embalmer in three other states — Texas, Hawaii, and Indiana — and has the licensing to prove it. She said states have different requirements to receive a license, from a four-year degree in mortuary sciences to an internship with a licensed professional. But Colorado has no requirement.

“You can go apply to be a funeral director right now and ten out of ten you would be hired,” Eberhardt said.

Eberhardt said she thinks Colorado is the only state to not require licensing because of money. She said licensed professionals often cost more to hire than unlicensed professionals.

“The big corporations are going to frown upon it because it's going to hit them in their pockets,” she said. “But if they really want to service their residents of Colorado and they they can step forward and help us take the steps that it needs to be taken to make sure legislation is passed to regulate some of these behaviors.”

The Colorado Funeral Directors Association (CFDA), which helps “advance the economic and professional interests of Colorado's funeral directors and the service they represent” said their members voted to support future licensing of funeral directors.

“We are the only state that does not require anything,” Walsh said. “I have a feeling that will change.”

Walsh said after the discovery of the 115 bodies at the Penrose funeral home, the CFDA is in communication with Colorado lawmakers about proposed legislation. However, Walsh isn’t sure if requiring licensing would have stopped what happened in Penrose.

“You’ll find incidents down in Texas and other parts of the country where there are still licensed funeral directors doing unsavory things that they shouldn't be doing,” Walsh said. “So the piece of paper that makes them licensed is not giving them morals and ethics.”

It just so happens, DORA is conducting a sunset review of the funeral homes and crematory industry to determine if the state should continue to oversee those businesses. A report on their findings is expected in the coming weeks, which could include proposed legislation to regulate individuals with ties to funeral homes and crematories.

Colorado Representative Matt Soper passed a law in 2022 that allowed inspections of funeral homes and crematories. He told 13 Investigates he would support legislation that would require licensing of individuals.

“It's not going to be the end all, cure-all, but if it saves one family from having to go through it, I think it matters,” Eberhardt said.

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Quinn Ritzdorf

Quinn is a reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about him here.


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