Funeral Homes - Guilty Until Proven Innocent?

This is one of those stories that have to be true because it’s too crazy for someone to make up. Here’s the link to the story, and here’s the link to the video: There are some lessons in here for all of us who sit on any type of a board. Take a minute to either read the article or watch the video so the rest of what you read is taken in context.

So, is anyone else wondering why the board was investigating an anonymous letter? Since when do we get to point a finger at someone and then walk away? Our legal system says that a person, or in this case a funeral home is innocent until proven guilty. So what happened here?

The accuser made anonymous allegations, and then the funeral home had to defend themselves; the accuser didn’t have to prove anything. And what does this say about the board? Don’t they have to build a reputation that they are trustworthy and don’t betray confidences? By investigating this, the board has set a precedent that an accuser doesn’t have to come forward. What’s the motivation for any future accuser to provide their name to this board now since they know they don’t have to? Anyone can accuse any funeral home of anything and simply walk away. The investigation of the board should begin with following up with the accuser, asking what their complaint is, how they have been violated by what happened, and what they would like to see as a resolution.

If this board required a name with a complaint then this probably wouldn’t have hit the media. And here’s why it shouldn’t have. There can be no satisfactory resolution in the case, no one knows who these organs belonged to, and since they were organs, and not bone, there is nothing to return anyway. So the funeral home may well get fined, and a slap on the hand, but how can they resolve it other than to say, “We won’t do it again.” Meanwhile, every family who experienced the death a loved one in 2003 and used that funeral home is wondering if their loved one’s organs were involved in this situation, and the reality is that the organs probably came from coroner’s office if it was all one type of organ. Who was it that started this complaint without regard for the families, knowing full well that this couldn’t be resolved? Oh, that’s right, we don’t know.

Since the two employees who were in question no longer work there, my inference is that one of them “anonymously” reported this incident. So he/she committed the “crime”, pointed the finger at the funeral home, who may or may have not known this was going on…. The “perpetrator” is off the hook, and the funeral home takes the bad press hit. If someone is reporting an “anonymous” crime, chances are they were involved, somehow, some way.

This is bad policy for any board of any kind to investigate anonymous complaints.

It sets up a scenario that the accused has to defend themselves instead of the accuser proving their case.

It leads to lack of credibility of the board to keep the confidences of those reporting legitimate concerns.

The board may just be protecting someone who actually committed a crime within the nature of the complaint.
It can lead to a proliferation of illegitimate complaints that will only waste the time of the board members while they could/should be investigating legitimate complaints.

A Report on Medicare Hospices

This year ( April 2007) the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a report entitled “Medicare Hospices: Certification and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Oversight.”

The results were from surveys performed by State agencies tracking the extent of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) of hospice programs which were receiving Medicare funds.

Here are the highlights of what they found, keep in mind that the most recent data available was from 2005.

14% of the hospices were past due for their certification, and the average number of years they had not been surveyed was 9.

Michigan, Illinois, and California accounted for 41% of all hospices with past due certifications.

In 2005 CMS required hospice certification every 6 years, but changed that number to 8 years in 2006.

Also reported was that health deficiencies were cited for 46% of hospices surveyed and for 26% of hospices investigated for complaints. The most frequent health deficiencies and complaints were regarding patient care planning and quality.

Of those cited during complaint investigation, 49% were repeat offenders.

The recommendations of the OIG to the CMS included:

• Providing guidance regarding analysis of data and identification of at-risk hospices.

• Including hospices in Federal comparative surveys and annual State performance reviews.

• To seek regulatory changes to establish specific requirements for the frequency of hospice certification.

• To seek legislation for enforcement of poor hospice performance.

Currently, the only remedy to a hospice with a poor performance is to dismiss the hospice from further association with the Medicare program. The CMS rejects the regulatory changes citing that hospice certification is a statutory issue for consideration by the Congress.

To read the full OIG report click here to download a copy.

Princess Diana, Mother Teresa, and Steve Irwin - Lessons on Loss

In the last few weeks, the media has been a buzz remembering Princess Diana, Mother Teresa, and Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin.

Although most of us haven’t had the distinction of serving such high profile families after their loss, there are a lot of lessons to be learned from a Princess, a Woman of Faith, and a Wildlife Conservationist.

So young at their mother’s death one can only imagine that Princes William and Harry were just going through the motions and following instruction during Princess Diana’s funeral and burial. Now, all grown up, how appropriate that they would organize a tribute to their Mother that would bring new meaning to them. Children experiencing loss can only process what they can cognitively understand. A child’s grief takes so long to process since, as they age, they learn and understand new information, and have to decide what to do with that information.

As I watched Princess Diana’s funeral 10 years ago, I just ached for those young boys whose mother had died, and how their lives had changed forever. As I watched the memorial service marking the 10 year anniversary of Diana’s death, I marveled at how well adjusted, well spoken, and at peace the Princes seemed to be.

Their lesson is that time doesn’t heal all wounds, but it does allow us to see how processing has occurred and life can be carried on. Follow up is so important to those working with children after a death, not only for them, but for us. How wonderful to know a child you served years ago is now well adjusted, well spoke, and at peace. Don’t hesitate to follow up.

Mother Teresa and her newly revealed struggle with her faith through her writings some years ago have brought some controversy. However, I think the lesson to be learned from her is that people who struggle with their faith through loss are simply -- normal. After a loss, one’s faith is usually strengthened or weakened, but it rarely remains the same. As we serve those who are grieving we should be mindful and non-judgmental about their possible struggle with their faith. Unfortunately struggle with faith usually includes anger, which is sometimes directed at the person who is serving the bereaved.

Steve Irwin’s small daughter has carried on her Dad’s work with the wild creatures of the world. The lesson from that family, a father shared and passed along his passion to his daughter in the few short years they had together. It’s not unusual for an adult child to carry on Mom or Dad’s business, but an elementary aged child who was given her Dad’s passion for life -- what a gift to her. Remember the gift of passion as you serve those experiencing loss, and make sure you are sharing your passion with others too.

These three people couldn’t have been more different in their lives, and yet each of them has a lesson for us to learn from their deaths, if we choose to.