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New report on funeral industry regulations recommends more inspections, not individual licensing

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Months before 115 bodies were found improperly stored in a Penrose Funeral Home, the state was already reviewing funeral home regulations. Now, this multi-agency investigation has thrust the new regulation report into the spotlight.

The report, completed by the Colorado Office of Policy, Research, and Regulatory Reform within the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA), offers 11 recommendations for the regulation of the funeral home industry. However, no one of those recommendations is individual licensing.

“You only have one chance to say goodbye to your mom,” said Chris Farmer, the general counsel for the National Funeral Directors Association. “You have one chance to say goodbye to your child. A funeral service is just too important to not have at least some basic level of licensing.”

Every five to seven years, DORA reviews industry regulations before they “sunset.” This means if regulations aren’t extended, the industry would no longer be regulated by the state. It just so happens that this year DORA reviewed the funeral home profession with help from industry experts.

One of those experts was the National Funeral Directors Association, which said Colorado had some of the least strict laws in the country.

“I've tried to give them our best thoughts on it since we have a national view and we can kind of get an idea about what's happening all across the country,” Farmer said.

The review report, which was released Friday, said the Director of the Division of Professions and Occupations inspected nine facilities since a change in the law in 2022 allowed the state to inspect funeral home facilities unannounced.

One of the report's recommendations is to require the director to conduct more routine and periodic inspections.

“Routine, periodic inspections could help to motivate registrants to consistently comply with the Code, thereby reducing the likelihood of such events occurring again and increasing the likelihood of earlier discovery of them,” the report said.

But the report doesn’t stop there. Another inspection recommendation specifically mentions the Penrose investigation. After Return to Nature’s license expired in November 2022, according to Colorado law, the state couldn’t inspect the facility no matter how many complaints it received. The report recommends changing that part of the law and allowing inspections after business operations end.

“If you've lapsed and you haven't renewed your license for six months, I like the idea because it means there's something going on at that location where they're not on top of the things they need to be,” Farmer said.

The current law only allows inspections during business hours, but the report recommends changing that too to allow inspections at any time.

Colorado’s Mortuary Science Code has a list of requirements funeral home professionals are required to follow. However, the director doesn’t have the authority to define terms or clarify statutes. For example, the law requires “funeral homes and crematories to embalm, refrigerate, cremate, bury, or entomb human remains within 24 hours after taking custody of the remains.” However, the law never mentions what type of equipment or chemicals that are allowed to be used.

“Resolution of such questions would provide clear guidance to the industry and could be thoroughly addressed,” the report said. “The Director simply needs the statutory authority to do so.”

The report goes on to recommend other regulations, including disciplining a facility for not responding to a complaint and suspending registration for not following a state order. However, the report never recommends funeral home professionals be individually licensed.

As 13 Investigates previously reported, Colorado is the only state in the country that doesn’t require funeral home professionals, like funeral home directors, embalmers, and cremationists, to be individually licensed.

“An educational requirement, a licensing requirement is not just a bar to clear from a check-the-box perspective, you want to make sure that those people are truly committed to what they're doing,” Farmer said.

Instead, the report recommends Colorado continue the use of protected titles. This means someone who uses the title of “Funeral Home Director” must meet specific requirements, including “at least 2,000 hours practicing as a funeral director and directing at least 50 funerals or graveside services.” If a professional uses a protected title without meeting those state requirements and the state receives a complaint, the business could be forced to shut down.

The report said a review of funeral service professionals and licensing will be submitted to legislators at the end of December, so this report “recommends maintaining the status quo, pending the results of the sunrise review. Doing so will help to prevent any confusion should the two reports come to different conclusions after the application of differing analytical criteria.”

The report ends by specifically mentioning the Penrose situation. It stated, “With the investigation in its infancy, it is too soon to be able to present a comprehensive list of issues that might need to be explored, but some are already apparent. At a minimum, the Director should engage stakeholders, including consumers, the funeral industry, federal and state law enforcement, and others.”

Farmer said most of the funeral directors he knows want individual licensing but he said there is a fine balance when it comes to appropriate regulation.

“We want to make sure that the regulations are fair,” he said. “We want to make sure that they're there, cover the concerns of the consumers and of the state without unduly burdening the funeral service professionals.”

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Quinn Ritzdorf

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


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