Posted By Administration,
Tuesday, May 21, 2019
Arguing. Fighting. Physical violence. Destruction of property. Extreme denial. When I ask funeral professionals about their most difficult challenges, I frequently hear about extreme behaviors in the arrangement room. Not only are the stories jaw-dropping, but they seem to be getting worse and more common over the years. In the face of anger and rudeness, it can be difficult to generate empathy for the bereaved. That’s why I think it is valuable to do our best to understand the source of these extreme behaviors. We may be able to be more patient and gracious if we understand what is causing these behaviors.
One way to make sense of these behaviors is through the lens of “defense mechanisms” – a concept originally developed by Freud. When you hear the name “Sigmund Freud,” you might immediately dismiss anything developed by a pipe-smoking, sex-obsessed, Viennese physician from the early 1900s. Even as a psychologist myself, Freud isn’t my favorite guy; I believe many of his perspectives are outdated, misogynistic, and outright wrong. However, some of his theories and perspectives have stood the test of time and can provide valuable insights into human motivation and behavior. I hope you will continue reading to discover if these 3 examples of defense mechanisms match your experiences in the arrangement room. I suspect you will discover that you actually agree with Freud on several of these concepts.
While I love giving a good lecture on Freud (seriously, just give this former college professor half a chance…), we don’t have the time or space for a full exploration of defense mechanisms. In a nutshell, Freud said all people use defense mechanisms to reduce anxiety or mental discomfort. Most of the time, these defense mechanisms are relatively normal and healthy; they only become problematic when they are used in extreme ways. For example, “denial” is one of the most commonly used defense mechanisms. A common experience of denial related to bereavement is when you reach for your phone to call a loved one, only to quickly remember they are deceased.
There’s absolutely nothing abnormal or pathological about this – our brains are simply used to them being alive and it takes a moment for that reality to reappear. On the other end of the continuum of denial is an extreme reaction. For example, when the police find that a family still has grandpa sitting at the dining room table – eight months after he died. All defense mechanisms can be viewed on a continuum; mild and common uses of reducing anxiety and pain or extreme situations when the individual’s reaction is much more dramatic and often pathological.
It is important to note that defense mechanisms are largely unconscious responses. Or put another way, these are not deliberate or premeditated strategies. They still hurt if you are on the receiving end, but I don’t want you to think these are intentional efforts designed to attack others. They are the unconscious reactions of someone trying to deal with painful thoughts and emotions.
Although Freud and his daughter, Anna, described several dozen defense mechanisms, we are going to focus on three that you may see in the arrangement room: displacement, projection, and reaction formation.
Like denial, displacement is a very commonly used defense mechanism. Displacement is when we take the angry or aggressive impulses toward one person and “displace” them on another, usually safer, target. For example, let’s say your boss yells at you and it makes you angry. You realize that it isn’t smart to strike back at your boss, so you go home and yell at your spouse, yell at your kids, or kick the dog as a way to displace your anger onto a ‘safer’ target. (I fully realize that getting angry at your spouse may not be a “safer” target – this is just an example. Also, don’t kick dogs.)
A common example of displacement in funeral service is when the bereaved are angry at the deceased. Perhaps the deceased wasn’t a kind person. Perhaps the bereaved are angry that the deceased didn’t take better care of themselves or go to get a check-up when they suggested it. But even though they are angry, Western culture states that it is not acceptable to “speak ill of the dead.” So where does that anger and frustration go? Sometimes it goes to a “safe target” like the funeral professional. They may assume they won’t see you after the services conclude and therefore you are a safe target for their anger – even if you haven’t done a thing to deserve it. Have you had situations where the bereaved are angry at you for no apparent reason?
Have you ever had someone accuse you of only caring about money? A second defense mechanism, projection, might be a part of their response. Projection is the process of taking our own feelings and thoughts that make us uncomfortable and then dealing with them by projecting them onto someone else. A common example of projection is when we deal with our own self-hate by projecting that view onto others. Projection takes “I don’t like myself” and turns it into, “He/She hates me for no reason” or “Everybody hates me.” It reduces our anxiety and negative self-worth to suggest it is coming from others, not from oneself.
Here are some examples of what a person might be feeling and how they may project that onto the funeral professional:
Bereaved individual’s thought: “I’m curious about death and death-related procedures, but am worried about how others will judge my curiosity.”
Projected onto funeral professional: “Why are you so obsessed with death!”
Bereaved individual’s thought: “I’m so angry at my mother for not taking better care of my father and look what happened.”
Projected onto funeral professional: “Why are you treating my mother so badly!”
Bereaved individual’s thought: “I wonder how much this is going to cost. I could desperately use some extra money right now.”
Projected onto funeral professional: “You’re only obsessed with money!”
A third defense mechanism that may arise in funeral situations is the use of reaction formation. Reaction formation is when a person takes a thought or feeling that is uncomfortable and attempts to convince themselves (and others) that they don’t really have that view by making an extravagant display that is the opposite of their true feelings. For example, if a man found himself sexually attracted to his best friend’s wife, he might deal with the anxiety caused by those feelings by suggesting that he doesn’t like her at all. (We see an example of this exact scenario in the movie Love Actually: It’s a self-preservation thing, you see.).
In funeral scenarios, reaction formations arise when the bereaved hates the deceased yet acts as if they were perfect. The bereaved reacts by choosing extravagant funeral products and having an elaborate funeral. Freud would suggest this individual is attempting to convince themselves that their feelings of hate don’t exist. Of course, later the bereaved individual may resolve those feelings of hate and wonder why they spent so much on an elaborate funeral. I suspect this is when they unfairly turn the blame on the funeral professional and say things like, “You tricked me into spending a fortune on the funeral!”
In the Arrangement Room
While many other defense mechanisms come into play, these are three that appear frequently. After learning about these defense mechanisms a natural question is, “How does a funeral professional respond in these situations?” That is the focus of my presentation: “Defusing Conflict in the Arrangement Room: Strategies from Family Therapists” at the CANA’s 101st Annual Cremation Innovation Convention. I will be reviewing how funeral professionals can better understand the conflict that sometimes arises in the arrangement process as well as strategies funeral professionals can use to defuse these situations. I hope to see you there!
With a wide range of valuable networking and educational opportunities, the CANA Convention features sessions from presenters carefully chosen to make the most of your time away from the office and ensure you leave with practical takeaways.
We can’t wait to welcome Dr. Troyer to the CANA stage in Louisville this August. See what else CANA has planned for our 101st Cremation Innovation Convention: goCANA.org/CANA19.
Can’t join us? We’ll have recordings available so you don’t miss out on this amazing content.
Dr. Jason Troyer is a grief expert, author, former psychology professor, and therapist. He provides grief support newsletters, Facebook content, and informational videos at www.GriefPlan.com/funeral. He also provides community presentations, professional workshops, and trainings on behalf of funeral homes and cemeteries. Dr. Troyer can be reached at DrJasonTroyer@gmail.com.
tips and tools
Posted By Administration,
Tuesday, March 12, 2019
When CNN’s article regarding the JAMA radiation letter first hit the CANA newsfeed on February 26, 2019, we knew immediately it would be a big deal. And yes, the story has become a many-headed hydra of confusion, concern, and misinformation, accompanied by increasingly scary rumors.
We constantly field concerns from suppliers about cremated remains placed inside keepsakes, from crematory operators and embalmers about their cases, from families about their options, from regulators about all of the above, and from you — in the middle of it all — trying to serve your families, comply with regulations, and protect your staff.
CANA has curated several of the most useful questions in one place to counter some of the fear, anger, and rumors. And it’s all publicly available, so please share this resource far and wide, bookmark it for later reference, come back to check for updates, and, most of all, DON’T PANIC.
Where it started.
The radiation misinformation saga began with a research letter, titled Radiation Contamination Following Cremation of a Deceased Patient Treated With a Radiopharmaceutical and published on February 26, 2019 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). In the letter, Dr. Nathan Yu (et. al) discussed a case study of a business in Arizona that cremated a 69-year-old man with pancreatic cancer in 2017. The deceased had been treated with a intravenous radiopharmaceutical for a pancreatic tumor and died five days later. When the medical staff became aware of the cremation, they notified the crematory and the cremation chamber, equipment, and staff were all tested for exposure to radiation. The equipment was found to have traces of contamination, as was a urine sample from one crematory operator (but it was a different isotope from the one used in the patient’s treatment). The contamination levels were below the limits set by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. In conclusion, because this is only one studied instance, researchers recommend further testing for more data and better understanding.
CNN was the first major media source we found to bring the letter to the general public awareness. To round out the story, the network solicited the opinion of Dr. Daniel Appelbaum, chief of nuclear medicine and PET Imaging at the University of Chicago Medical Center. He said, "If there are reasonable and fairly straightforward and simple things that we can do to minimize radioactivity, why not do that?” Applebaum also acknowledged the need for better understanding and regulations that keep workers safe. In the case of crematory operators, the doctor recommends "robust enforcement of mask and gloves and handling techniques."
Where it went.
Other media outlets picked up the story and it spread quickly, with information traveling like a game of telephone. My mother’s church group argued against cremation for spreading radiation in the community. One CANA member’s staff are expressing concerns about “the crematory operator who died from radiation” (when none have). Each of which are exaggerated concerns about what we know.
Because while the case study is new, the knowledge about radiopharmaceuticals and brachytherapy is not. And the medical community is quick to reassure that there is Low Risk of Radioactive Contamination from Cremation When Proper Safety Procedures Followed. CANA is aware that these concerns and fears are rooted in a lack of awareness and understanding, so we want to provide information to help.
What we know.
At CANA’s second Alkaline Hydrolysis Summit, we invited Jeff Brunette, Health Physicist and Manager of Radiation Safety at the Mayo Clinic, to talk about nuclear medicine and its impact on death care. His full presentation is available as a free, on-demand webinar for you, your staff, and anyone to access anytime on CANA’s Online Learning platform, but here are some highlights:
Nuclear medicine, as administered by a medical professional, is very different than a nuclear warhead. These treatments are administered at doses for safe and healthful diagnostic imaging and cures, not mass devastation.
- These treatments have known efficacy windows which range depending on the use. Diagnostic imaging (e.g. PET scans) can take 20 minutes to 67 hours to clear the system. Radiopharmaceuticals can take 3-12 days (this is where the case study falls). Radiation oncology, like brachytherapy, implants treatment into the body to deliver targeted doses over a treatment window and these isotopes can take weeks or months (or longer) to decay to acceptable exposure levels.
- The variations in the length of radiation are due to different materials (called isotopes) used in treatment and their half-lives (i.e. how long it takes the radiation to degrade to half its original mass).
- Safe levels are determined by federal regulation. For the US general public, this is anything up to 100mrem in a year (excepting medical treatment — a full-body CT scan provides approximately 1,000mrem), while for people who work with the substances it’s 5,000mrem each year. A fatal dose is more than 500,000mrem. And we are exposed to radiation by taking an airplane, using the microwave, and from nature (both Earth and space).
- Radiation treatments also vary in strength. Alpha waves are stopped by paper, or blocked by your skin. Beta waves are blocked by soft tissues and thin metal of aluminum. Gamma waves travel much farther. Distance from the radioactive material also changes exposure — the medical community measures the potency at one meter to determine when a patient can go into public spaces. In most of the cases described above, treatment is outpatient (even the implanted seeds) meaning the person can leave that day.
What's the risk?
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has set specific levels (mentioned above) to regulate emissions and uses. In the case of cremating a body treated with nuclear medicine, the Commission and medical community agrees that the potential exposure is too low to record. Though cremation volatilizes the radiation treatment, Brunette says even extreme cases are not likely to exceed the limits set for safe exposure due to the combination of medically accepted isotopes, their half-lives, and treatment use. He explains it with an analogy: taking a daily recommended dose of aspirin is fine (around 325 mg) but taking a year’s worth at once (118,625 mg or more than three bottles) is fatal.
Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has their own rules and regulations and reviewed them extensively last year. CANA recommends their comprehensive Radiation Protection Guidelines for Safe Handling of Decedents as a great resource to learn more about the isotopes in question and safe handling procedures, even for non-Canadians.
Ultimately, Brunette argues that radiation is a limited concern because the levels you will encounter on the job are small, and not very common. Your bigger concerns are the activities that your staff do every day: musculoskeletal injury from lifting, exposure to disease during embalming (HIV; Hepatitis B & C; Tuberculosis; MRSA), and exposure to harsh conditions during cremation operations (heat, noise, dust or chemicals).
How can we operate safely?
CANA recommends asking all families for detailed medical information to properly understand and respond to potential risks. Just as you ask about the presence of pacemakers, ask about nuclear medicine treatments.
Paul Harris of Regulatory Support Services encourages all funeral home, crematory, and cemetery owners to ask the pertinent questions of their families. Cause of death is the first indicator that a case is at risk for radiation therapy, but all families should be asked in the case of death unrelated to their ailment. In many cases, families may be unaware or not understand the procedures the decedent has undergone. In these cases, you may need to ask for a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) release form (in the US, rules in Canadian provinces vary) to contact the medical provider yourself. Asking the radiologist for information on the treatment and about the specific isotope and its half-life is the best way to determine when (or if) it is safe to cremate or embalm the body.
The medical community also recommends installing a simple radiation detector to quickly alert staff to the presence of radioactivity (some states require them in all morgues). Brunette recommends a pancake Geiger-Mueller counter which can be acquired cheaply (particularly if you have them left-over from the old nuclear-powered pacemaker days) and built into your case acceptance procedure. The Arizona Bureau of Radiation Control recommended a combination metal/radiation detector, such as the MetRad, which one school in considering adding to their intake process curriculum.
Mostly, Brunette recommends the following steps to reduce exposure:
Awareness: Talk to families, ask the radiologist, consider purchasing and/or installing detectors.
- Protection: Wear appropriate PPE when potential for contact with body fluids, cremated remains, or AH fluids.
- Disposal: Drain blood and body fluids during embalming directly into the sanitary sewer system and don’t aspirate unless necessary.
- Proximity: Maximize distance to the body and minimize time in close vicinity to the body.
What we do next.
The medical community should do what Drs. Yu and Applebaum say: research. Learn more about these situations so everyone can make informed choices about safety. In the long-term, this will serve us better than knee-jerk reactions and blanket rules to refuse all cases who have ever been treated.
Our professional community should continue to do what you do best: serve your communities safely and compliantly. Enforce PPE, add this to your list of questions for families, do your due diligence. You should review your existing policies, processes, and procedures to ensure that you are screening for the use of radiopharmaceuticals and staff are taking proper precautions. Inform yourself and staff with basic information about diseases that could indicate potential treatments and which isotopes are used. Know who to contact with questions like your local hospital’s radiology department (or the decedent’s doctor) or regulator.
Mostly, DON’T PANIC. Now that the public is aware of this issue, this is an opportunity to educate our communities and ourselves with good information from reliable sources. CANA will periodically update this post with new knowledge, so bookmark this for later.
Sources of information referenced in this article:
Barbara Kemmis is Executive Director of the Cremation Association of North America.
processes and procedures
tips and tools
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, February 27, 2019
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2019
There are a number of proactive measures we as a profession can take in pursuit of remaining relevant to contemporary consumers. Developed from ideas presented by Kim Medici Shelquist, Senior VP of Planning & Development for Homesteaders Life Company, and Ernie Heffner, President of Heffner Funeral Chapel & Crematory, this post focuses on the relationship between end-of-life care and death care and the family’s experience.
The first US hospice was established in 1974 and viewed as an alternative to current heathcare options for those at the end of life. Kim explained that, in many cases, traditional healthcare establishments were not welcoming, so hospice professionals had to fight for respect. The largest growth of hospice care providers in America occurred after Congress passed legislation in 1982 to create a Medicare hospice benefit allowing Medicare/Medicaid to fund hospice care. As of 2014, there were 6,100 hospices nationwide and more entering the market every year.
Facts About Hospice Providers
Most hospice care is not a non-profit endeavor but rather care provided by for-profit organizations and keenly attuned to demographics, networking, market shares and the competition. Ernie described that hospice organizations have changed significantly from the volunteer-based approach some of us may remember from the early days of hospice care and now have first-class marketing graphics and a business plan to match. The close personal relationship of a hospice care provider with surviving family members does not end with the patient’s death but can extend for more than a year after.
Ernie researched and reported many of the following statistics from the website of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.
- Free standing hospice organizations not affiliated with a hospital are on the rise, 58.3% in 2013 increased to 72.2% in 2015.
- Not-for-profit hospices are decreasing, 34% non-profit in 2011 down to 31.9% in 2016.
- Of all US deaths, 44.6% in 2011 occurred under hospice care, 46.2% in 2015. 59% received in-home care.
- The average length of care decreased from 72.6 days in 2013 to 69.5 days in 2015. The median length of care decreased from 18.5 days in 2013 and to 17.4 days in 2014 and increased to 23 days in 2015.
- Aftercare: Few if any funeral homes have an aftercare program like hospice. 92% offer community bereavement support. Through ongoing bereavement activities by a “bereavement coordinator,” the hospice organization maintains a relationship with the family long past the time of the patient’s death, in fact monthly for 13 months after the death.
- Volunteers in Hospice Care: Statute requires that 5% of people hours are provided by volunteers. Many hospice organizations have a person dedicated to recruiting volunteers. In 2014, 430,000 volunteers provided 19 million hours of service.
- Spiritual Advisor: Hospice organizations are required to have a spiritual advisor on staff. Hospice chaplains are often very well-trained in non-denominational, non-religious approaches to the spiritual side of life and death.
The Role of the Hospice Worker
Hospice care providers are a very special, caring group of people. They are held in high regard by the families they serve. Their opinions and advice are trusted. They are passionate, dedicated, and tenacious. There is little turnover, and even those who do leave often move to another hospice.
No other healthcare professional actively talks to family about the end of a life and planning the way a hospice care provider does. Kim explained that they do whatever is in their power to reunite families and meet patients’ needs, they are flexible and open-minded, and they figure out how to provide the best end-of-life experience possible. Ernie recommends the chapter “The Power of Presence” in Doug Manning’s book, The Funeral, to appreciate the connection and relationship hospice care providers have with families.
Almost half of all deceased people in the US last year were under hospice care before they ever got to a funeral home, crematory, cemetery, or anatomical gift registry. That’s significant, because unless you have a great community engagement program, a family’s first contact about funeral plans is hospice staff. Social workers ask patients and families about their wishes and intentions long before you see them. Statistically, these caregivers have built a very personal relationship with almost half of these families immediately prior to the death of their loved ones. If that doesn’t motivate you to think about what you’re doing in your community and your hospice outreach, I don’t know what will.
The average length of hospice stay is about 70 days. That’s a long time to create a relationship with the family. 59% of hospice patients receive in-home care. Hospice staff go in, day after day, and build that relationship and gather the details of their lives and their family dynamics. It’s a very different situation – we get three days, they get almost three months to hold those really hard conversations about really hard parts of a patient’s life. In that role, they become trusted advisors and the go-to people for all things related to death and dying.
Serving Hospice Families
The average hospice caregiver, no matter how well-intentioned, only knows as much about funeral service as someone who goes to a lot of funerals. Most are invited, and attend, many patient’s services and thus see many local funeral homes. But, there’s no aspect of hospice training that goes into the ins and outs of funeral service.
We use a lot of trade-specific information and technical jargon that is confusing to families and just as confusing to those caregivers. And if these people go to a lot of funerals, it means they go to a lot of bad ones, too. What does that caregiver think after they leave? If the next family asks, “What should we do?” they might not recommend your funeral home because they remember that bad service.
Some funeral directors ask, “Why do they tell them to do the cheapest thing?” Kim reminds us that the social worker has seen their hospital bills, heard about maxed-out credit cards, and sat with the widow afraid of losing the house after losing her husband. That social worker is not concerned about whether the funeral home is interested in offering an upgraded casket. If the social worker sees you trying to sell the family anything, they might remind them that they don’t need it. It’s not right or wrong—it’s just the way it is. We can talk about “that’s not her role” or “the family might have wanted to do something nice and she took their choice away,” but you’re talking about a dynamic where she was protecting them. Hospice social workers and caregivers take their role as advocates very seriously. They value collaboration. That means if you can create a relationship and build trust, you can position yourself as an advocate of the family, and you can collaborate on the process. If they see you acting in the best interest of their families, they will support you.
By the time the hospice family comes to the funeral home, you need to understand what they’ve been through. You are professional and passionate members of funeral service, but terminal illness is different. In a hospice situation, the family often has the opportunity to come together and say goodbye. Sometimes, they’ve done it three or four times. They’ve done the first part of the grieving process. They've had a lot of time to talk about death, to think about death, and often have additional support via hospice resources to prepare and guide them. The family is often present at the time of death, and it’s not unusual for them to have a brief ceremony right then. Kim explains that, the presence of the family, the words of the chaplain, the goodbye to their loved one – after that, they may not need a traditional funeral to process their grief. And it’s important for funeral professionals to understand that.
That’s not to say that there isn’t need or opportunity for service and ceremony, but we must remember that those in hospice have declined for a long time. Their survivors often say “I don’t want people to see my loved one like that.” It’s hard for families to think about a visitation because of the change that illness has brought. They don’t want their friends and families to remember the deceased that way, or worse, not recognize their loved one anymore. But they don’t necessarily understand what you can do about that. They don't always understand how body preparation can make a big difference—whether they agree to full embalming (which can reduce swelling or return moisture) or merely a shave and a haircut (which can make them look like themselves again).
Lastly, you know that these families are spread out, so they’ve spent time and money on travel in addition to the financial costs of long-term care, lost time at work and time with their immediate families. They are exhausted physically, emotionally, and financially. And this stress has likely heightened any kind of disagreements about medical care and funeral planning.
How to get started in developing a hospice outreach program
Developing a meaningful relationship with hospice care providers in the community is not about dropping off cookies at Christmas. It is a commitment to education that can benefit all concerned, providing the families we mutually serve with seamless and meaningful end-of-life transition. Ernie provides three key strategies for starting your hospice relationship:
Read all you can to learn about the hospice profession. Then research your state’s licensing requirements for Registered Nurses (RNs) specifically the continuing education (CE) requirements and what qualifies for program content.
- Build formal PowerPoint presentations
These need to be compliant with RN CE requirements. Include reporting, record-keeping system and handout material to be used. Then apply to get your program(s) certified by your state’s nurse licensing division.
- Recruit a hospice care provider as your outreach person
This could be a part-time position about 18 to 24 hours per week. Consider recruiting a retiring hospice social worker interested in a part-time position. Have this person be your representative to offer continuing education. This person should also attend monthly networking events relevant to serving seniors.
Dr. Alan Wolfelt, internationally acclaimed grief counselor, author and educator, has said “Education starts with understanding the people we serve.” To that point, it is helpful to review the demographic and societal statistics of your community, understand how these facts dramatically impact end-of-life service providers, and embrace the adaptations needed by the profession—including further education and training—in order to remain prospectively relevant to contemporary consumers.
Like Ernie says, life is about relationships and experiences. We are in the business of celebrating the life of the individual by recognizing how they touched the lives of others. Our mission is to orchestrate and direct a meaningful ceremony with compassion, flexibility and options and in way that is as unique as the person who died.
Kim Medici Shelquist's remarks excerpted from her presentation at CANA's 2017 Cremation Symposium titled "Seek First to Understand: How will changing demographics and end-of-life care options impact the funeral profession?"
Ernie Heffner's full article is featured in The Cremationist, Vol 55, Issue 1, titled “Staying Relevant in a Changing World” featuring important discussion on the role of Celebrant services, the importance of minimum standards, hospice, and more. The Cremationist is an exclusive benefit of CANA Membership.
is President and Owner of Heffner Funeral Chapels & Crematory
, York, PA. After graduation from Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science, he joined his father in a two-location firm serving about 100 families annually, with a cremation rate of about 4%. The firm grew to 22 locations in 2 states with 100 employees. That growth was during the acquisition mania of the 1990’s. Subsequent to strategic contraction, the firm today serves from six Pennsylvania locations, continuing as a “Mom & Pop” firm owned by Ernie & Laura Heffner and operated by Heffner and John Katora, V.P. and Heffner associate of 38 years. Ernie appreciates the truth of proverbs 22:10, which he paraphrases as, “Minimize the challenges in your life and your life will be better.” Focusing on organic growth and the pursuit of relevance to contemporary consumers has led to gratifying results.
Kim Medici Shelquist
in 2009 as Director of Marketing Communications after many years as Business Development and Communications Director of Hospice of Central Iowa. At Homesteaders, she added breadth and depth to the marketing department that resulted in the creation of several key B2C public relations and sales programs. Her efforts were also instrumental in helping Homesteaders become a recognized leader in preneed funding. Today, Kim oversees Homesteaders’ strategic planning and project management process as the Senior Vice President of Planning and Development. Her team is charged with identifying, evaluating and developing new opportunities that will help Homesteaders grow long into the future. Kim holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s of business administration, and is a Fellow, Life Management Institute.
tips and tools
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, November 7, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, November 7, 2018
The International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories (IAOPCC) and the Cremation Association of North America (CANA) share similar values of dignity and respect in the care of the deceased and standards to maintain this level responsibility at all times. We’re pleased to present this post from our partner association about determining proper standards of care for our loved ones, no matter how many legs.
According to the 2017-2018 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 68% of U.S. households own a pet, which equates to 84.6 million homes. In 2018, it is estimated that over $72 billion dollars will be spent in the U.S. on these pets for everything from food to vet care to grooming and boarding. Because most people see their pets as members of their family, they are often willing to pay more for their death care as well. Thus, it is reasonable to presume that they also expect their pets’ remains to be treated with the same dignity and respect we would use with their human family members. If that is what families expect and are willing to pay for, we must meet this expectation as pet death care providers or else face a growing potential liability.
While it isn’t imperative (or even practical) that pet death care be exactly the same as human death care, they should be treated similarly. This does not mean that pets should be embalmed, placed in $10,000 caskets and the costs should be in line with human services. But it does mean that, when handling the death care of pets, you need to establish policies, procedures and documentation that provides the same safeguards to ensure that the remains are cared for properly.
Pet Death Care: The Standard of Practice
So what standards of practice should providers follow? In order to determine this, we must first look at how standards of practice are determined. When we talk of standards of practice, there are two different standards that apply: 1) the Regulatory Standard and 2) the Civil Standard. The Regulatory standard is the standard that that is established through the applicable rules and regulations of the jurisdiction in which you practice. The Regulatory Standard establishes the bare minimums of practice, all of which must be met to be able to practice.
The Civil Standard is the standard that applies in a civil lawsuit. While the Regulatory Standard helps form the Civil Standard, there are other factors that can affect it. In short, the Civil Standard is: What the reasonably prudent operator would do under the same or similar circumstances. In certain situations, the Civil Standard could significantly exceed the Regulatory Standard. Ultimately, in a lawsuit, it is the jury that determines what the standard is and deciding whether or not the Defendant failed to meet that standard.
When it comes to damages in a civil lawsuit, the intent is to make the Plaintiff “whole” by requiring the Defendant who has been found to have been negligent to compensate the injured Plaintiff. The intent is to put the Plaintiff in the same position he or she was in prior to the injury.
Traditionally, only economic damages have been recoverable damages related to injuries to Plaintiffs for their pets. In other words, the amount recoverable for a wrongful cremation, for example, is the value of the pet (i.e., purchase price, etc.). This is because the pet is considered personal property the same as a car or smart phone.
However, the landscape is changing. Some jurisdictions are beginning to allow for other categories of damages other than economic damages, such as punitive damages and emotional distress damages. Many jurisdictions leave the door open for the possibility of accepting these damages in the future, should the facts of a case support them.
Therefore, when looking at which human care procedures and policies should be mirrored in caring for pet remains, we need to consider what the common pitfalls are, and essentially, it comes down to the big three: 1) Authorization, 2) Identification, and 3) Chain of Custody. In order to protect your business from the significant liability that can arise from these three elements, you need to focus on documentation including policies and procedures, authorizations, and chain of Custody. As a largely self-regulated industry, the pet aftercare profession has little oversight, other than environmental regulations and business licensing. Currently there are only two states, Illinois and New York, that have any legal standards for pet cremation.
Recognizing the importance of the big three, and of having a standard of practice for the pet industry, the International Association of Pet Cemeteries & Crematories (IAOPCC) began development of such a standard in 2009, and the project culminated in the release of the IAOPCC Accreditation Program in 2014. This is the first and only Accredited Program with published and recommended procedures for every step of the pet cremation process. With the introduction of this program, the IAOPCC has given the industry and the pet owner a measure of protection regarding the integrity of the pet aftercare processes from those pet crematories who seek out Accreditation and inspection.
From Standards to Accreditation
In 2009, a committed group of pet crematory professionals dedicated to identifying and promoting standards of quality care and procedures within the pet aftercare industry gathered to form the IAOPCC’s Standards Committee. These individuals, with a combined experience of more than 120 years, met monthly over a five-year period to develop the rigorous evaluations and standards. What resulted was a core set of Accreditation standards, processes, and a program of inspections that were copyrighted and rolled out across the United States, Canada, and worldwide to its Members. Since its inception, these worldwide standards have continued to raise the bar of excellence throughout the pet aftercare industry.
Under the IAOPCC Accreditation program, members are subject to a rigorous examination and evaluation of their services and operations. Through the program, pet crematories are evaluated against a pool of nearly 300 standards that represent the best practices in pet cremation care and pet crematory management. The IAOPCC Standards Committee continually updates the Accreditation standards to reflect the latest developments and improvements in pet aftercare, pet cremation techniques, records, cleanliness, staff and client safety, and a host of other areas essential to excellent pet and client care. Those Members who choose to achieve Accreditation through the IAOPCC have set their practices and standards at the highest level in the pet aftercare industry.
To become accredited, a business much meet certain standards of practice and pass inspection by their peers. Depending on the profession, the process can take time and commitment to changing policies and procedures – the IAOPCC requires almost 300 standards be met and documented. So why pursue Accreditation? Members of the IAOPCC began asking that question of themselves early on. Our family has been in the pet aftercare business for more than 46 years. Since 1972, we have taken care of pets and the people that love them. My father, Doyle L. Shugart, spent his life as a human funeral director in Atlanta, during which time he started Deceased Pet Care Funeral Homes. As a second-generation family business, we understood cremation and we felt sure we already had the very best procedures and processes in place, so what could Accreditation do for us? Turns out, it taught us more than we realized!
Once we began the process of reviewing all of our systems, processes and procedures, we quickly realized we actually had many of these in place – we just needed to document them! It gave our family and staff a tremendous sense of pride in evaluating ourselves at the highest level. Some other benefits we found during the experience:
- It provided us with challenging benchmarks in which to strive and achieve;
- We improved and refined many of our procedures, and this in turn resulted in our overall operations becoming more efficient;
- We saw immediate enhanced credibility with our clients, our community, and peers;
- It inspired pride among our Staff Members – There were “high 5s” all around;
- Our Staff members were encouraged in their leadership abilities and development and it was wonderful to have the teams’ achievements recognized once we received our Accreditation.
As Members of the IAOPCC for over 40 years, we’ve spoken to many members who have experienced the same results in seeking and achieving Accreditation with many questioning, “Why didn’t I do this sooner?” I recently read an article that appeared in Slo Horse News regarding one of our long-time IAOPCC Members, Christine Johnson of Eden Memorial Pet Care. “There needs to be a standard Code of Ethics in our industry,” explains Christine. “It just makes us all better and that is good for the Pet Cemeteries and Crematories industry.” Now that Eden Memorial Pet Care has set the bar for other California Pet Cemeteries and Crematories, their peers are coming to them for advice on how to get accredited too. This keeps Eden at the top of the pack when it comes to proper care and processes. “Now we have an association which says we are the best,” Christine states. “This means our customers, and the Veterinarians we work with, know we are doing what is best for the pets we provide end-of-life care for.”
Putting Standards into Practice
Accreditation can seem like a daunting task, and it certainly takes a lot of work, but the end result is worth the effort. The best way to begin is one standard at a time. Not sure where to begin? We suggest the standard that states that crematory operators should be certified. In 2016, CANA and the IAOPCC collaborated to create an all new Certified Pet Crematory Operator Program (CPCO), which has been offered annually at the IAOPCC Conference. Two years later, both groups are excited to announce the availability of this program online, making it even easier to meet the standard. And whether or not you go for the full accreditation, it’s best practice to train your operators. So take advantage of this new pet specific cremation program today, learn more at www.cremationassociation.org/PetCremation.
Being IAOPCC-Accredited demonstrates to your community and to your clients your ongoing commitment to excellence in every aspect of pet cremation care and management. So, why wouldn’t you do it?
For more information regarding the IAOPCC Accreditation Program, contact the IAOPCC Home Office at 800-952-5541, or email@example.com.
Excerpts taken from The Cremationist, Vol 50, Issue 1: “Pet Death Care: The Standard of Practice” by Chris Farmer. Special thanks to the IAOPCC Accreditation Committee for lending their experience and expertise to develop these standards, an important facet of our profession.
Announcing the Online Certified Pet Crematory Operator Program developed in partnership with IAOPCC and CANA. Pet crematory operators can now get certified online, on their schedule, at their pace and at home! This course coming soon – learn more at www.cremationassociation.org/PetCremation.
Donna Shugart-Bethune is part of the Shugart Family business of Deceased Pet Care Funeral Homes and Crematories located in Atlanta, Georgia. As one of the largest pet funeral homes in the nation, Deceased Pet Care has served pet parents for more than 46 years. Donna, who grew up in the family business, pursued her BBA from Georgia State University. Over the past few years, she has concentrated her efforts as the company’s Public Relations & Marketing Director.
In addition to the family business, Donna has served as the Executive Director for the International Association of Pet Cemeteries & Crematories (IAOPCC) for more than 8 years. Donna is a member of the Georgia Veterinary Medical Association (GVMA) as well as the GVMA Industry Council. Donna is certified as a Pet Bereavement Specialist, a Registered Pet Funeral Director, Pet Celebrant, and Pet Crematory Operator. Deceased Pet Care was voted Best Pet Cemetery in Atlanta Magazine, Nominated for Georgia Business of the Year, and is the recipient of the Chamblee Business of the Year Award.
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Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, August 8, 2018
Now that we are entering the final quarter of the year, most companies in the funeral service are working on next year’s marketing plans. As you move through this process, it’s a great time to ask (and answer) some key questions about your company and its operations.
A solid marketing plan assembles all of a company’s marketing objectives into one comprehensive plan. While each company has a unique set of goals, the overreaching aims for most firms are to increase business and, in doing so, grow revenues, profits and market share. Here are a number of questions to ponder as part of the marketing plan development process.
- Have your analyzed your competition?
You can learn a lot by taking an objective look at your competitors, their operations and their marketing efforts. Now would be a great time to take a long, hard look at what your competition is offering. You might be very surprised at what you find.
- What is your customer’s experience?
Happy families are loyal customers. Make the customer experience easy, enjoyable and convenient. When you do that successfully, they will use your firm and promote your company to others in the community. Evaluate every step of the customer’s journey once they contact your firm and work toward creating a customer experience that is unparalleled in your market. Remember, the little difference makes all the difference.
- How is your firm perceived in the community?
Discover what your reputation is and whether your “brand” matches your intention and perception. Talk to customers and prospects. You might discover a shortcoming that needs to be addressed or better yet, learn about a strength that you were not aware of.
- What, if any, changes or trends have emerged in your marketplace?
Research the CANA trends and make sure your services are still meaningful and relevant. Assess current customer needs and pain points, and make a plan to address them in your marketing messages. Look for growth opportunities in new marketplaces when appropriate.
- What did you do well last year, and where do you need to improve?
Some marketing plans are left on the shelf and not followed. In addition, even when implemented, some programs do not generate the expected results. In that case, it’s important to evaluate the components of each campaign, including the messaging, medium and the delivery. Ask for input from all team members to get a better understanding of what needs to change in the future.
- What strengths do you need to leverage and protect as well as what weaknesses must you address?
Figure out what you are doing well and make plans to make them even stronger. At the same time, take an honest look at where you and your staff fall short. Outline a plan to make this shortcoming a strength.
- What opportunities can you exploit and what threats should you plan to mitigate?
If you are in contact with other CANA members, find out what new services or products they offer and have had success with. Conversely, find out what regulations they are faced with in their states and communities – as it’s only a matter of time until they may find their way into your market.
- Is your vision and mission clearly acknowledged and understood throughout your company?
Without a succinct and easily expressed mission, it is unlikely that everyone will be united and be able to work together in a collaborative way to reach the outlined company’s goals. Find ways to remind the staff (and inform your families) about the vision through things like signage throughout the firm.
- Do you have well-defined strategies to drive your marketing initiatives?
Take a look at what products and services you plan to offer, how they will be priced, where you will interact with family and what you will communicate with them. Each of these is crucial in providing the backbone for the tactics and activities included in the marketing plan.
- Is your messaging customer-centric?
Today’s savvy families can spot a marketing pitch a mile away. Personalize messages to customers based on their pain points, needs and interests, and deliver them in a way they like. Successful companies create tailored, relevant communications based on customer preferences that highlights a key point of difference.
- Is your marketing plan written, known and supported throughout the organization?
While the vision, mission, goals, strategies and tactics are important components of any solid marketing plan, they are not enough. Make sure your plan includes a budget, schedule, assignment of responsibilities and a method of monitoring and evaluating plan performance. Share the plan and get buy-in and then fine-tune the plan throughout the year.
As you answer these questions, your marketing plan will begin to unfold. Start by focusing on the big picture and then define the specific strategies and tactics necessary to accomplish your goals. When strategy and tactics in your marketing plan work in tandem as they are executed, your company can efficiently and effectively reach its goals and enjoy success.
Joe Weigel put attendees though their paces at CANA's 100th Annual Cremation Innovation Convention on July 26, 2018 at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa in Session 2 • Marketing Boot Camp 101: You Must Start with the Basics, to acquire the core skills of a marketer to improve your firm’s overall competitiveness and increase revenues, receive a solid grounding in the tools, techniques and approaches used in a plan.
This article appears in The Cremationist Vol. 54, Issue 3 — CANA Members can log in to see this and more articles from our quarterly publication. Not a member? Consider joining your business to access tools, techniques, statistics, and advice to help you understand how to grow the range of services and products you can offer, ensuring your business is a good fit for every member of your community – only $470!
With a wide range of valuable networking and educational opportunities, the CANA Convention featured sessions that examined the last 100 years of CANA conventions and growth in cremation, evaluated where businesses are today, and focused on the next 100 years by providing strategic and practical information for long-term success. Missed it? You can access Joe's full presentation recording and all other speakers' wisdom on our Learning Management System. View session descriptions and pricing here: gocana.org/CANA18.
Save the Date for CANA's 101st Annual Cremation Innovation Convention in Louisville, Kentucky July 31-August 2, 2019.
Joe Weigel is currently principal and owner of Weigel Strategic Marketing. a communications firm focused on cremation and the funeral profession that delivers expertise and results across three interrelated marketing disciplines: strategy, branding and communications. You can visit his website at weigelstrategicmarketing.webs.com. He also can be reached at 317-608-8914 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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