End of Life Care Industry News & Information

Pet Caskets, Green Burial, and Organic Embalming Fluid, Oh My...

I recently attended the National Funeral Directors Association Annual Convention in Orlando. I saw old friends, made some new ones, and overall had a great time. (Here comes the “but&rdquoWinking BUT, I was shocked by some of things I saw all in the name of progress. Read the following all in good fun.

I saw caskets that have been designed to be buried standing up, four per grave space. Yikes. I don’t want to stand up for eternity as that sounds horribly tiring. Not to mention the personal space issue. I think it’s nice that cemeteries give everyone their own grave space. For anyone who thinks we’re running out of land, have you flown over Wyoming lately? I have, there’s plenty.

I talked to a funeral director who told me he bought a case of organic embalming fluid. I didn’t know whether to ask, “What?” or “Why?” first. I picture an obese man who died of a heart attack on the embalming table being injected with “organic” embalming fluid…hadn’t exercised in years…ate steak every night…like he’d care. I’m still not sure what organic means in the context of embalming fluid. Is it ok if we mistake it for our bottle of Evian? It’s just absurd.

Then I saw so much pet cremation and burial merchandise I started looking for the “National Veterinarian’s Convention” signs. May I just say, “Pets are not people.” I’m not offended that someone wants to honor their beloved pet with cremation or burial. But I cannot explain to you to what extent I saw this merchandise, it was literally everywhere. I heard two funeral directors talking about the issue and one told the other, “I took care of a woman’s husband and she spent $500 on his cremation, when her dog died, I took care of the dog and she spent $700.” I guess the husband should have spent more time “sitting” and “staying”; perhaps he would have been treated better in death. I even saw a dog casket in the shape of a bone, seriously, have you ever seen a dog in the shape of a bone? All I ask is that our human loved ones receive the same respect as our pets seem to have aspired to.

And if it wasn’t a pet cremation exhibit, it was a green burial exhibit. I’m all for green burial, but for goodness sakes the exhibitors need to stop acting like they invented something here. I would like to make a motion to nominate Moses as the rightful creator of green burial. My father (63 years old) tells stories of home burial when he was young and his uncle died in the 1960’s. This isn’t a new concept, but Al Gore would have been proud had he attended this convention.

5280 Magazine Negative Slant on the Organ Transplant System

The organ transplant system in this country is running into serious problems because like everything else, people now believe it’s their right to have a transplant. The right of entitlement is evident in the October 2008 issue of 5280 Magazine article titled, “The Crusader.”

After describing their profiler, Bob Hickey, as a bleeding heart liberal and crusader at Toronto’s first abortion clinic in 1964 (not sure what any of that had to do with the topic of organ donation); they go on to describe everything that is wrong with the organ transplant system in this country. Never mind that Bob Hickey got his kidney. He found it on-line from a donor at MatchingDonors.com.

There used to be something called survival of the fittest; which is admittedly a little harsh. People with terminal illness need hope. Organ donation brought hope for those people who had a genetic defect, or had overcome alcoholism. But according to the article, people should be allowed to get their kidneys wherever they want to, and should be allowed to pay for them. And the OPO’S (Organ Procurement Organizations) doing the transplants shouldn’t be charging for them because, if I can’t make money selling my kidney then they shouldn’t be able to make a profit from transplanting it. I’m not sure what’s so offensive about charging for a service. How does that logic work? Why is this service any different? Because the number of people needing kidneys and number of people receiving kidneys is so far apart. “Of the roughly 80,000 people needing kidneys each year, fewer than 17,000 will receive one (5280, Oct.08, Caudron).”

The goal of Bob Hickey is to get UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing) shut down. Is there a bureaucracy within the transplant system? Of course, it’s a billion dollar a year non-profit industry. But we don’t shut down bureaucracies for one very good reason; they provide us something we need.

Although there are issues with the organ donation system in the U.S. at least we have a system that we can be critical of. At least we can advocate for ourselves or our loved one who needs an organ. Bob Hickey said that no one told him the rules of the game [organ transplant]. Life is about navigating a course and learning how to play the game, the strong will play it and the weak won’t. Perhaps that’s the full circle of survival of the fittest in organ donation. It might not be fair, but tell me something within our health care system that is.

Redefining Dead

Historically the definition of “dead” was important to make certain no one was buried alive. Today it’s important because transplant surgeons need to know when they can take your organs. A recent Washington Post article explores the difficulties of defining death. In the Death & Dying course I teach at Arapahoe Community College I ask the students to write down their definition of death on the first day of class. I save the cards and then on the last day of class ask them to write down their definition of death. Rarely does their definition remain the same. Why, because it’s not an easy thing to define. As we gain more knowledge about the subject we can’t but help morph our own definition. Our society can’t agree when a life begins, so why would it be able to agree with a death occurs?

Article author, William Saletan asks, “How can we get more organs? By redefining death.” At the Children’s Hospital in Denver hearts are taken 75 seconds after death because a heart has never self-started after 60 seconds. But the question is, are the docs are Children’s being hasty or the docs who wait two to five minutes too slow? If every second counts why wouldn’t we take the organs after 61 seconds? The key word there is self-start. Hearts have been restarted by external stimulation after several minutes. The important thing to note though is that the parents have decided that they didn’t want any type of resuscitation. Letting the family decide somewhat takes the doctor off the hook, but it can’t be easy for them either. Knowing when to give up on one patient and re-invest in another sounds like a brutal job.

Today death is what you say it is; brain death, heart death, or a persistent vegetative state. The problem is that not too far down the road we will have more medical advancements changing the definition of death yet again. Right now however, the definition of death benefits organ donation.

DORA Division of Insurance Alleges Neptune Society Used Bait and Switch

The following is a Colorado Division of Insurance Press Release dated October 3, 2008. To read a PDF of the complaint filed against the Neptune Society scroll down to the end and click on the link.

DORA’s Division of Insurance Alleges Neptune Society Used “Bait and Switch” to Lure Consumers to Purchase Pre-Need Funeral Contracts

Colorado’s Commissioner of Insurance, Marcy Morrison, has ordered representatives of the Neptune Management Corporation, d.b.a. Neptune Society (Neptune) to appear at a hearing to answer charges that the company misled consumers and manipulated prepaid, preneed funeral accounts in order to skirt Colorado law and maximize profits.

An investigation by the Division of Insurance indicated that the Neptune Society was using a “package plan” offer to entice consumers to purchase a particular pre-need funeral services contract. While state law mandates that 75 percent of a pre-need funeral services contract be held in trust to protect the consumer, the Neptune Society created a plan that allowed Neptune to keep, rather than trust, more than half of the entire plan premium.

“We will not stand for businesses that ignore consumer protection laws,” Morrison said. “Pre-need funeral plans are prime targets for scams because the service purchased is not provided until an unknown date far into the future.”

Most pre-need funeral plans require full payment at time of purchase for funeral services, such as burial or cremation, although the purchaser does not know when, in the future, the services will be used. With funeral plans and pre-paid cremation services running thousands of dollars per contract, Colorado law provided that 75 percent of any preneed plan would be held in trust. That way, should the firm close its doors, move out of state, or no longer offer the service purchased, the consumer could still have most of the money returned in order to purchase another plan.

By reducing the amount actually trusted, through a dual-contract system, Neptune has kept approximately $2.6 million of consumers’ money that should have been protected in trust.

Allegedly, Neptune Society skirted the law by inducing consumers to purchase a “package deal” and sign two contracts: one for future funeral and/or cremation services, and a separate contract for the immediate purchase of merchandise, such as a funeral urn, at grossly inflated prices. Most of the funds from the funeral services contract were held in trust, as required, but the funds from the “merchandise” contract were not trusted.

As an example:
• One contract purchaser paid a total package price of nearly $1,333.
• Of that amount, 55% of the package price (about $700) was charged for “upfront merchandise” on a separate contract.

• Rather than place three-fourths of the entire $1333 into trust as required by law, Neptune chose to place only 75 percent of the remaining $610 into trust.

• This means a customer who had paid nearly $1400 for a preneed funeral contract had less than $560 trusted.

• In addition, the “merchandise” costs were inflated with a charge of $349 for a funeral urn valued at approximately $13.

• The “bait-and-switch” is just one of several charges filed against the Neptune Society. Neptune must also answer charges related to: plan and practice to avoid compliance with preneed trusting requirements, violations of the general provider agreements, conditioning the sale of a preneed contract upon the purchase of a second contract, and, violation of several tenets of the Colorado Consumer Protection Act.

With approximately 5,000 pre-paid funeral accounts in Colorado, Neptune confirmed that fully 100 percent of their customers had chosen the “package deal,” which appeared to cost less than purchasing those same items individually. However, the “package deal” allowed Neptune to put as little as 35 percent of the package price in trust, thereby avoiding trusting approximately $525 per each preneed contract. The amount that Neptune has avoided trusting is close to $2,625,000.

The “Notice to Set” scheduling conference will be held Oct. 24, 2008, at 1:30 p.m. at the Colorado Office of Administrative Courts, 633 Seventeenth Street, Suite 1300, in Denver.

At the Oct. 24 scheduling conference, Neptune Management Corporation and the Division of Insurance may agree to engage in alternative dispute resolution, or a date for a full hearing will be set.

Click here to read the court filed complaint against Neptune Society.

Resting in Peace Through Hurricane Season

Once while giving an exam on disaster management I asked my students to number in importance, 1-5 the steps that should be taken after a disaster. I wanted to know that they understood the concept that number one is take care of the injured and living, and number 5 is take care of the dead. Not surprisingly, one student, (not destined for public office obviously), chose the most important task as taking care of the dead!

While most people understand the dead will be cared for after a hurricane such as Ike, most don’t think of the task of taking care of the dead who were dead before the storm. What a horrific and grim task to enter your local cemetery and see caskets stacked on top of each other above ground. But that is just the task many communities face in the aftermath of a hurricane. You don’t hear about it much, but it is an issue. Imagine part of your life returning to normal being re-burying your previously dead.

One story documents Clarence Brown, a blues musician and Grammy Award Winner in 1982. He fled Hurricane Katrina in 2005 seeking refuge in Orange, Texas but died 2 weeks after the storm. Now Hurricane Ike has disinterred him from his final hometown resting place. My favorite quote in this story is from Wayne Sparrow, third generation funeral director from Orange, Texas and Sparrow Funeral Home. After looking at the damage to the historic cemetery he said, "These are somebody's somebodies, and it needs to be taken care of as quickly as possible.” He’s the kind of funeral director I would want in my community. Here’s a link to the story, and here’s a 90 second video of the cemetery. The narrator of the video is a city worker; you won’t see him until the end of the clip.

Remember to keep these hard working people in your thoughts and prayers too, lest they think their work is not important to restoring their communities.

Pre-Need Fraud

The funeral industry seems to have a constant stream of pre-need fraud examples in the press. On September 11th the Colorado Division of Insurance and the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) added to that stream by naming Drinkwine Mortuary in Littleton as the latest violator of the law. Below are the links to the press release that DORA sent out on Thursday about Drinkwine Mortuary in Littleton; and then the information in the Summer 08 DORA Newsletter on Nolan Funeral Home in Colorado Springs, also convicted of pre-need fraud this year.

I applaud the Division of Insurance and the work they have done on these investigations, but it doesn’t go far enough. Here’s why:

1. Funeral homes are required to only deposit into trust 75% of pre-need funds, and they are allowed to keep 25% for operating expenses (paying the commission on the contract to the sales person, etc.) They are also allowed to take the interest earned off of the 75% deposited. That is reasonable. However, how does DORA think that those funeral service contracts where only 75% funded are going to be given 100% of the services when the time comes? Funeral homes should not be able to take the interest until the account is back up to 100% funded. Whether it be 100% from the entire trust to cover all of the funerals, or an individual account. 75% does not equal 100%, ever.

2. As the pre-need consumers die and their families find out they aren’t getting what they paid for, the issue of pre-need fraud will continue to grow. It’s not that it hasn’t been happening for years, it’s just that those policy owners are starting to die in larger numbers and so the fraud is being exposed in a way it hasn’t been before.

3. DORA states that their mission is consumer protection but they don’t go far enough. These families will in all likelihood get an attorney and proceed with a class action civil law-suit. Protecting the families should include reassuring them that their funeral director won’t be able to do to this another family. DORA can’t do that, DORA doesn’t regulate the funeral industry only the insurance industry.

4. Colorado needs a government entity with the authority to keep someone from practicing in funeral service, whether for a period of time or indefinitely, depending on the situation. After all is said and done the person guilty of pre-need fraud can just go down the street and open a funeral home and do the same thing all over again. Maybe they can’t sell pre-need contracts but they can still take care of grieving families.

5. The consumer needs to hear about this in more of a context than two paragraphs in the newspaper. Pre-need funeral plans are not slot machines; you don’t put money in and hope to get more back. These funds and services should be guaranteed.

The Division of Insurance will be introducing a bill in the 2009 legislative session to bring forward stricter pre-need laws. I’m not sure yet if I will testify in favor of the bill or not, my issue remaining is all the laws we currently have in funeral service aren’t doing anything to solve the ultimate problem, which is to attempt to keep the identified bad guys out. How to keep those bad guys out without punishing the good guys is the rub. I recently read an article that the Illinois Funeral Directors Association Trust is missing $40,000,000 in pre-need funds (www.yourfuneralguy.wordpress.com), so I’m not naïve enough to believe that regulation of the industry in Colorado will solve this because Illinois has adequate regulation. But I am frustrated enough to try. Grieving families deserve better accountability.



Additional Reading:
The National Prearranged Services, Inc. collapse has affected policy holdes in 19 states with over a half a billion dollars in pre-need funding. If you read this article get yourself a cup of coffee first, then plan on 20 minutes. But it’s well worth your time. http://www.funerals.org/newsandalerts/consumer-alerts/201-npspreneed

The Pentagon Memorial Dedication

I don’t know why, but for some reason this September 11th anniversary was extra sad to me, I had a lump in throat all morning. Perhaps it was because of that solemn and symbolic memorial ceremony I watched on T.V. from the Pentagon. There was a day that I would describe our nation’s funerals as “cookie cutter.” Six pallbearers, Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art, the person in a casket wearing a suit they had worn maybe two other times in their life and put a sticky note on in the closet that marked it, “funeral suit.” But not anymore. The general public has figured about that personalization is the key to a meaningful ceremony, and thankfully so has our government. The Pentagon Memorial has managed to personally memorialize each of the 184 victims for who they were as individuals, not how they died as a group.

The symbolic imagery was amazing. Here’s a few facts:

• The gray concrete wall rises three inches tall at its beginning, symbolic of the youngest person who died there; three year old Dana Falkenberg, and continues to the height of 71 inches, representing the oldest victim, 71 year old retired U.S. Nacy Capt. John D. Yamnicky St.

• The centotaph in the entrance reads, “September 11 , 2001- 9:27 a.m.”

• The stone used came from the ruins of the Pentagon, still stained with burn marks.

• 184 bench-like structures, each dedicated for a victim are laid out in a pattern according to the year each victim was born, from 1988 to 1930.

• A small pool of water beneath each bench fountains to adds comfort and tranquility.

• The names on the benches face the direction the person died; if on the plane then toward the western sky, if in the Pentagon then toward the building, the east.

But perhaps the most beautiful thing the memorial brings us is simple a place to go and remember, the symbolism of the cemetery; a place to go, and remember.

To see pictures of the memorial or make a contribution visit http://memorial.pentagon.mil/. The memorial was built with 100% private funds and now the perpetual care funds are needed.

Cremation Mercury Issue Not Going Away in Minnesota

I’ve written several blogs on mercury being released during cremation from dental amalgams. I’ve made no apologies for my position on supporting decedent rights on the issue that they should not have to endure the pulling of their teeth after their final suffering. I understand that they are dead and it won’t hurt. However, my overall opposition comes back to the lack of evidence that this is a legitimate problem worth compromising the dignity of a corpse in a matter that their teeth would pulled out of their mouth. It just seems barbaric to me that we would do this knowing that our current statistics show that all the crematories in the United States make up less than 1% of mercury emissions. I recently spoke to an environmentalist knowledgeable about this topic and he can’t understand why this is even an issue. He stated that environmentalists have much bigger worries than this.

This issue is expected to once again hit the legislative capitol in Minnesota. For the past 5 years, Senator John Marty (D) continues to introduce one form or another of a bill proposing the removal of mercury from human bodies before cremation. Colorado has term limits so I thought, wait a year, he’ll term out and then someone else will have to pick up the cause. Then I learned that Minnesota doesn’t have term limits and Senator Marty is in his 7th term. The conclusion… this issue is not going away and the Minnesota funeral directors will have to deal with it.

Subsequently, the Minnesota Funeral Directors are now looking at ways to be part of the solution, not part of problem. This may mean they will not fight the bill this session, but may in fact help sculpt it so that they can live with whatever bill may (or may not) be passed. What a quandary for any profession to be in. Darned if you do, darned if you don’t.

Here’s a copy of the bill as it was written and introduced in last Legislative Session. End of Life Insights will follow any new bill on the subject that may be introduced, and keep you informed.

I just hope that when people ask me, “Isn’t it true that Colorado is the only State in the Country that doesn’t have licensure?” I don’t have to respond, “Yes, and Minnesota is the only State that pulls teeth.”

Burial, Cremation, or Plastination?

In life we often choose between two options. Paper or plastic? Sweetened or unsweetened? Burial or cremation? But as science progresses so do our choices for final disposition. An increasing number of people are adding plastination to their list of burial or cremation options. What is plastination? And who is signing up for it? Why would a person want to be plastinated?

Plastination is a process invented by German scientists Gunther von Hagens in 1993 whereby he replaces body fluids and fat with plastic. Then he sells the bodies from $200-$60,000 to academic institutions or Body Worlds exhibits. About 800 people on North America and 8,600 people worldwide have signed up to donate their bodies to the Body Worlds donor program. Most donors sign up for reasons of education and enlightenment, believing that putting their dead body on display will enable others to learn. Of course the donors and their families don’t make any money (and of course you and I are on the high end of being worth that $60,000, not the $200).

This is however a very controversial program in that it is often questioned where the bodies for the exhibits actually come from, legitimate donors, or victims of torture and execution from Chinese prisons. Legislation is pending in several states to make Body Worlds prove donor consent before they open in museums for public display.

I attended a Body Worlds exhibit in Denver several summers ago and have to admit that it was beyond fascinating. As a college instructor of Embalming I truly learned a lot about several of the different body systems. However, the group of high schools out on a field trip where not as impressed as I was, as they spent most of their time being loud, pointing, and laughing at the displays.

Plastination is new enough that right now I would classify it as a fad; whether Von Hagens is able to teach his methods to enough interested people that in the future it would become a more common type of disposition remains to be seen. But my guess, this too shall pass.

The Cost of a Funeral -- Dollars and Sense

Many readers of the End of Life Insights Professional Newsletter are in the position of helping people either plan funerals, or are frequently asked about funerals. One of the most common questions a client family will ask is, “How much does it cost to be buried?” Of course that’s like asking, “How much does it cost to get married?” There are so many variables in both scenarios that one dollar figure does not fit all.

A recently published survey by the National Funeral Directors Association lists sheds some insight on current traditional burial funeral costs. Now keep in mind that not every bride will have 250 guests and serve prime rib, and neither will every grieving family want a viewing, register book, or a metal casket. With that caveat; the national median cost for a funeral in the 2006 calendar year was $6,195. That doesn’t include cemetery costs (no, you can’t bury him in your backyard) or flowers (yes, you can pick those roses from your backyard).

Funerals are like anything else that you have to research and buy. Some people drive Lexus’, and others state with snobbery, “I wouldn’t drive a Lexus, even if I could afford one.” So what does that mean? People are different, and free to make their own choices. I don’t care if you drive a BMW, or an old Yugo; I’m not paying your insurance, gas, maintenance. What’s it to me? I feel the same way about a person’s right to choose what type of funeral ceremony they want; with the exception of doing absolutely nothing.

What’s really interesting about the number $6,195 is that before the casket is selected the figure is much lower, $3,930. Now let’s take these averages and remove everything that has to do with burial; the average figure falls to $1,948. That doesn’t include a service, a viewing prior to cremation, an urn, or the actual cremation fee for the crematory. What’s my point? Although some families will choose that $6,195 funeral, some families will also choose burial with no visitation, or a cloth covered casket. $6,195 really is just a number.

It’s important that your client families know they have options. Be careful about quoting a client a figure of $6,000 that they need to set aside for the funeral. They may need $10,000, or $1,000. Instead refer them to a few local funeral directors where they can determine what their funeral is going to cost based on what their actual needs are. Don’t scare people with big numbers like $10,000; but likewise, don’t sit in judgment of anyone who selects those services. Our funerals are personal; they reflect how we lived our lives, and what was important to us. Some people drive BMW’s, and some people drive Yugo’s. And yes, some people will spend $6,195 on their funeral.

Success in the Senior Market -- Part Two

Last week we explored Ed Pittock’s “Nine to Thrive” brochure. This week I want to highlight his Number 6, “Use plain language; go the extra mile in your communications.” I love these tips because as you read them you’ll realize they are just great tips about communicating in general.

• Reduce background noises.

• Before you speak, make sure you have the attention of the person who is hard of hearing.

• Face the listener directly.

• Lower the pitch of your voice, but still speak in a normal tone.

• Make sure the person can see your face as you speak.

• Have the listener repeat the message so you know your words are understood.

• Consider writing out notes from the meeting and mailing them to the client afterward.

Ed says that about a third of American older than 60 have hearing problems; and half of people 85 and older have hearing loss. That’s the demographic of the end of life clientele. Another tip that I learned right out of Mortuary School was, when meeting with a family put your pen down every time they speak. It reminds you to listen and not be in a rush.

For more information on Ed Pittock and the Society of Senior Advisors visit www.society-csa.com.

Success in the Senior Market -- Part One

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I love brochures. Who has time to read books anymore? And when I do have time I want to read about a fun topic, not 500 pages about death. So here’s another brochure I have and reference often. I met Ed Pittock last year when he spoke at a convention I attended. His brochure “Nine to Thrive: Nine Ways You Never Thought of for Success in the Senior Market” is jam packed with great tips on serving your senior clients. (He’s a great speaker, by the way.)

1. Be Patient. Seniors need to know who you are before they care about the intangible service that you provide. Let them get to know you and topic you are an expert in before telling them about your product or service.

2. Develop a client contract strategy. Ed writes, “All clients are not created equal.” You don’t have to try to keep in contact with everyone you serve; some clients will want/need more contact with you than others. And that’s ok.

3. Make your best offers to your best clients. If someone refers you to a friend and you go chase down that friend and forget about who sent you, you really haven’t gained anything.

4. Become a browser for your clients. Take the time to put together a few helpful links on your website to reinforce your knowledge as an advisor.

5. Make sure your marketing materials are senior-friendly. Always use a 12 point font or larger. Make sure photos are appropriate. Don’t portray seniors as old and feeble.

6. Use plain language; go the extra mile in your communication. There’s a lot here. We’ll have a Part II blog on this one next week.

7. Beware of the 3 biggest myths of marketing to seniors. People are living longer but in poorer health. When people reach a certain age, they stop buying. Seniors aren’t very particular about whom they do business with.

8. Create an award. Honor a senior for their work within the community.

9. Volunteer. Being visual within the community equals commitment to the community.

These aren’t applicable for all end of life services, funeral homes are obviously not going to “make their best offers” to families who have suffered multiple losses. But most of these can be tactfully adapted one way or another to your client base. For more information on Ed Pittock and the Society for Certified Senior Advisors, visit www.society-csa.com.

Funerals -- A Consumer Guide

The last blog in our series about free government brochures is Funerals: A Consumer Guide. However, the catch with this brochure is… it’s a dollar. Not a high price by any means but the Federal Trade Commission wrote it and evidently they want a dollar for every copy sold!

I think that the FTC has done a fair job regulating the funeral industry in this country, and don’t really have a beef with their federal laws, after all, I’m a consumer too.

However, this is the only brochure I’ve reviewed for you that I really don’t like and wouldn’t recommend. It reads like it was written by a very angry person that doesn’t like funeral service. I realize that sometimes unfortunate situations may occur surrounding the events of a funeral; but 99.9% of the funeral directors in this country are upstanding members of their community and are working very hard to serve their families in their time of need.

The language in the brochure is a little scary at times, and makes it sound like it’s not a matter of “if” something goes wrong, but rather “when” something goes wrong. Providing information without bias to an industry or those serving in it is what should be done. It is a disservice to the public to make them feel like they are going to get ripped off before they even meet their local funeral director.

Here’s an example from the brochure of what I mean: “So it’s in the seller’s best interest to start out by showing you higher-end models. If you haven’t seen some of the lower priced models on the price list, ask to see them- but don’t be surprised if they’re not prominently displayed, or displayed at all.” It is not in the best interest of the funeral director to sell a casket to a family that the family can’t afford, have a receivable on the book for a year, and eventually have to take a loss because they could never collect. A smart funeral director will sell a casket to a family that serves the family’s needs, is affordable to them, and the funeral director doesn’t have to carry a receivable on.

Here’s another example in the context of speaking about the funeral director, “They make take advantage of the clients through inflated prices, overcharges, double charges or unnecessary services. “ There are bad apples in every industry and funeral service is no different. But it’s in very poor taste for the FTC to make the consumer feel bad about decisions they haven’t even made yet. And, oh yeah, who was it that wanted the dollar for this brochure? That’s right, the FTC.

Arlington National Cemetery

We’ve been reviewing a series of brochures that are provided by the government on end of life issues. As Memorial Day has just passed it is timely to review the requirements to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

First here are some interesting facts about Arlington:

• Almost 4 million people visit annually.

• It is not the largest National Cemetery, just the most famous. (The largest is Calverton in NY.)

• There are more than 290,000 veterans and their dependents buried on 624 acres of land.

• There are veterans buried at Arlington representing every war the United States has fought.

• The other 129 National Cemeteries are run by the Department of Veterans Affairs; Arlington however is administered by the Department of the Army.

• At the current rate of approximately 27 funerals daily, M-F, the cemetery should be able to accommodate ground burials up to the year 2060.

So, who can be buried at Arlington?

• Any active duty member of the Armed Forces (except those members serving on active duty for training only).

• Any veteran who is retired from active military service with the Armed Forces.

• Any veteran who is retired from the Reserves is eligible upon reaching age 60 and drawing retired pay; and who served a period of active duty (other than for training).

• Any former member of the Armed Forces separated honorably prior to October 1, 1949 for medical reasons and who was rated at 30% or greater disabled effective on the day of discharge.

• Any former member of the Armed Forces who has been awarded one of the following decorations:
‣ Medal of Honor
‣ Distinguished Service Cross (Navy Cross or Air Force Cross)
‣ Distinguished Service Medal
‣ Silver Star
‣ Purple Heart

• The President of the United States or any former President of the United States.

Any former member of the Armed Forces who served on active duty (other than for training) and who held any of the following positions:

‣ An elective office of the U.S. Government

‣ Office of the Chief Justice of the United States or of an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

‣ An office listed, at the time the person held the position, in 5 USC 5312 or 5313 (Levels I and II of the Executive Schedule).

‣ The chief of a mission who was at any time during his/her tenure classified in Class I under the provisions of Section 411, Act of 13 August 1946, 60 Stat. 1002, as amended (22 USC 866) or as listed in State Department memorandum dated March 21, 1988.

• Any former prisoner of war who, while a prisoner of war, served honorably in the active military, naval, or air service, whose last period of military, naval or air service terminated honorably and who died on or after November 30, 1993.

• The spouse, widow or widower, minor child, or permanently dependent child, and certain unmarried adult children of any of the above eligible veterans.

The widow or widower of:

‣ a member of the Armed Forces who was lost or buried at sea or officially determined to be missing in action.

‣ a member of the Armed Forces who is interred in a US military cemetery overseas that is maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission.

‣ a member of the Armed Forces who is interred in Arlington National Cemetery as part of a group burial.

• The surviving spouse, minor child, or permanently dependent child of any person already buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

• The parents of a minor child, or permanently dependent child whose remains, based on the eligibility of a parent, are already buried in ANC. A spouse divorced from the primary eligible, or widowed and remarried, is not eligible for interment.

• Provided certain conditions are met, a former member of the Armed Forces may be buried in the same grave with a close relative who is already buried and is the primary eligible.

This brochure is full of helpful information and answers questions I wouldn’t have even thought to ask. It is 30 pages long, and professionally published. However, the same information is available on-line at www.arlingtoncemetery.org as well. Just click on “Funeral Information.”

The High Cost of Employee Turnover in the End of Life Care Industry

I subscribe electronically to The Gallup Management Journal and their article “Turning Around Employee Turnover” really caught my eye. It’s a rather lengthy article but if you are in charge of hiring you must read it in full.

People who work in end of life career fields tend to have a high turnover. We assume it is from low pay, but there are many other reasons. The Gallup article references workers who quit jobs which paid $25,000-$35,000 annually; right in line with many end of life job salaries.

If you don’t read the entire article at least read these excerpts.

Most of the reasons employees cited for their turnover are things that managers can influence.

The top 5 predictors of turnover:

1. The immediate manager.
2. Poor fit to the job.
3. Coworkers not committed to quality.
4. Pay and benefits.
5. Connection to the organization or to senior management.

According to Gallup’s research, 9 of the 12 workplace elements consistently predict turnover across business units, regardless of an organization’s size.

1. Having clear expectations.
2. Having the materials and equipment to do the job right.
3. Having the opportunity to do what you do best every day.
4. The belief that someone at work cares.
5. The belief that someone encourages your development.
6. A sense that your opinions count.
7. The mission or purpose of the company making you feel your job is important.
8. A belief that your coworkers are committed to quality, and
9. Having opportunities to learn and grow at work.

The other three elements, recognition, progress discussions (performance evaluations), and the presence of a best friend at work, add significant value and turnover is much less likely.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the voluntary turnover rate is 23.4%. If replacing an employee costs a business one-half to five time that employee’s annual salary then if 25% of your workforce leaves, and their average pay is $35,000, your 100 person company may pay between $438,000 and $4 million a year to replace the 25 employee who left.


How a Bill Becomes a Law in Colorado

Regarding HB 1123, I have received several emails, and have had numerous conversations with end of life professionals on how a bill actually becomes law in Colorado. Right now the bill is stuck waiting for the second reading on the House floor. Here’s how it got that far:

1. The bill was read by the House Clerk on the floor of the House of Representatives.

2. The Speaker of the House assigned the bill to the House Business Labor and Affairs Committee, which voted in favor the bill moving it the next step.

3. Since HB 1123 has a fiscal note attached the House Appropriations Committee had to review the bill. The first vote ended in a tie, but the second vote passed the bill.

4. Now the bill is waiting for the next step, which is second reading on the House floor. The entire House can debate and still make amendments to the bill. During second reading the vote is a voice vote, that means when asked, “All in favor”, or “All opposed” which ever group has a louder voice either keeps the bill moving forward toward third reading, or kills the bill on second reading.

5. If the bill goes to third reading, that is when an official recorded vote is taken, and the bill either dies in the House, or passes and moves to the Senate.

The bill has been postponed every day for over a week now. What’s happening is that as the Legislature prepares to begin debate on the Long Bill, the number of other bills is really piling up, in other words, there’s a log jam at the Capitol. The Long Bill is the bill that deals with the budget and takes a large amount of time for the legislatures to debate and pass, therefore most bill sponsors want to get their bill heard before the Long Bill begins. That creates a huge back-up.

This morning it was announced on the floor of the House that all of the second reading of the bills would indeed be read through tomorrow (Wednesday, March 26, 2008) and I quote, “if it takes until Thursday to get it done.” The Representatives were instructed to bring snacks and dinner would be ordered if necessary to get through the large stack of bills before them.

Click here to get a copy of the State’s official PDF of how a bill becomes law (which is pictured above). Picking up with number 5 above, if the bill passes the House, then it will be moved to the Senate, at which time it will be read, assigned a committee, and a very similar process begins again, only in the Senate. If the bill passes the House and the Senate then it becomes law, provided that the Governor signs it immediately.

However, if the Governor doesn’t sign it within 30 during days during regular session, or within 10 days after the session recesses the bill will not become law, and the whole process must start over.

The Governor can also veto a bill if it hasn’t met the 2/3 passing majority in both the House and Senate, which is what happened to the funeral licensure bill 2 years ago.

Enough Already, AARP

shapeimage_2-4The AARP can’t seem to help itself when it comes to funerals or any end of life issue. It’s becoming almost compulsive that at least once a month in at least one of their publications they have to highlight something negative about funeral homes, or dying, etc. One would think that their readership, let’s say who “aren’t getting any younger” really don’t want to be reminded monthly of their imminent appointment with their local funeral director.

In the AARP March Bulletin they tried to stir something up that really isn’t a story. A funeral home in Idaho found a great location for their new building, albeit by nursing home, but a great location none the less. The neighbors saw it differently and started protesting. The reaction of the funeral home co-owner, James Asper was, “We didn’t expect the outrage that we got, so we decided to look somewhere else.” So the funeral home owners did the right thing, the community didn’t want them in that particular location, so instead of fighting them they decided to look elsewhere, as any good community business would.

So what’s the big deal AARP?

The funeral home found a location, the community didn’t like it, so the funeral home owners looked elsewhere.

I guess I should be happy that it wasn’t some horror story about how a funeral home absconded with $100,000 in pre-need funds, but for goodness sakes AARP, give it a rest already.

Let Your Families Defend Your Profession

In this blog I was originally going to tell you about this article from the Des Moines Register newspaper about proposed legislation giving the deceased the right to control their final disposition. Most people don’t realize that in several states one can determine who gets their kids, money, property, insurance proceeds, etc. but they can’t determine, even with a pre-need funeral policy, what their final disposition will be. A person can purchase a pre-need arrangement for a cremation, but after the death occurs, the next of kin can say, “I don’t like cremation, she’s going to be buried.” And guess what? She will be buried, not cremated as she wished. Several states including Colorado have already passed a similar bill to the Iowa proposed legislation.

But I changed my mind, that’s not what you really need to know about the article. I’ve noticed a disturbing pattern with on-line end of life articles, including this one. People can post comments regarding the content of the article. What I’m seeing over and over again, are a consumer and an end of life professional having it out, back and forth, arguing what one said isn’t true, practically attacking each other. How is that helping end of life professionals? As soon as I read, “I’m a funeral director…” or “I’m a hospice nurse….” I think, “Here we go again….” I understand that people want to defend themselves and their profession when attacked, but it only makes them and their profession look worse. As I keep reading through the comments, there is inevitably another consumer, just as in this article, that says, “Hey, I’ve made funeral arrangements in several different towns and states and have always been treated respectfully by the funeral director.”

A newspaper is a public forum, let the public make their comments and let one consumer disagree with another. The lesson, if you have done your job well, served your family with total commitment and professionalism, then you don’t have to defend yourself or your profession, your families will defend it for you. And how much more powerful is it to the public when it comes from them and not you!

Wreaths Across America

When is the last time you donated your product or service to someone in need?

What were the circumstances?

How did it make you feel to help that family, client, or child?

How many people do you think they told?

Can you measure the goodwill that was created through that gift?

I happened upon the most beautiful story of giving back at Christmas time, and want to share it with you.

(Be sure to read all the way to the end, where it will all tie back together.)

The Wreaths Across America story is growing, yet again. Fifteen years ago a wreath company in Maine had over 5,000 extra wreaths too close to Christmas to release to the market. How would you get “rid” of 5,000 wreaths? Businessman Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreath Company donated them to Arlington National Cemetery to decorate the graves for the holidays. Since then the story has grown… and grown.

The first year 5,000 wreaths were laid at Arlington, and then last year Worcester’s wife, Karen, came up with the idea for Wreaths Across America. Over 75,000 wreaths have been donated since 1992 from Worcester Wreath Company alone, and every year the number of volunteers placing the wreaths has grown too. This year wreaths were donated at Arlington and 200 other state and national cemeteries; and for the first time were donated to 24 veterans cemeteries on foreign soil, and aboard U.S. ships sailing in all 7 seas! Each State Capitol even receives a wreath.

What connects all these wreaths is a simultaneous ceremony where all of the wreaths are laid on the gravesites at the same time all across the world. What a beautiful way to collectively memorialize all of those who served our country.

You can visit the Wreaths Across America site at www.wreaths-across-america.org and view the beautiful pictures of the wreaths at the gravesites. The pictures on the site have not been altered; they are just so beautiful that many people have a hard time believing they are not computer generated! YouTube even has a video of the placing of the wreaths which is worth watching.

All of this because a 12 year old boy named Morrill Worcester won a trip to Washington from his paper delivery route. He was so moved by his visit to Arlington National Cemetery that 30 years later his visit inspired him to donate the extra wreaths, and has given people the opportunity to act upon their gratitude even today. What’s your wreath story?

A Word of Encouragement

I am so very blessed that every year I get a break from teaching from around December 15th-January15th. It gives me a chance to rest, re-group, and take a break from the daily tasks that are always there. I say that I am very blessed because of my acute awareness that most people in society don’t get this timely perk that I have enjoyed for the past 13 years. As my End of Life Insights endeavor is growing by leaps and bounds, I am finding myself more and more aware that I am working 7 days a week, up to 12 hour days, and this year, my “break” will consist of writing, getting national approval for the CUE’s offered on the site, booking more speaking engagement for next year, and on and on and on. It probably sounds like a typical December for you.

So this is what I’ve decided I’m going to do in December this year to balance work and the holidays. Please take and use whatever you can on this list for yourself.

1. I will make my “to-do” list knowing full well that it can’t possibly all be accomplished by January, and that’s o.k., 2008 is another year.

2. I will give myself permission to do things on said list one at time. I refuse to multi-task for the entire month of December.

3. I will not get rid of my “to-do” list by dumping the work on other people. Any work that needs to be passed along to other to finish will be given a note that states; “This does not have to be done before December 25th.”

4. I will not read, talk on my cell phone, or do any type of work during my boys’ basketball games in December; but will delight in their good health, ability to run up and down a basketball court, and will share in their love of the game.

5. I will turn the Christmas lights on the tree everyday when I get home so I can enjoy the lights hour after hour, day after day.

6. I will buy my holiday baked goods if I can’t find the time to bake, and I will not feel guilty about it.

7. I will remember that the holiday celebrated in my home…Christmas…is about love and hope, not work, stress, and commercialism.

Make your list today; it only takes 5 minutes, and writing it down will make it meaningful and possible!

Giving Thanks

In the spirit of Thanksgiving this week, I would like to share 5 things with you that I am thankful for.

I am thankful for my relationships with end of life professionals.

I am thankful for my mentors who have guided, advised, and encouraged me.

I am thankful for all of the nurses and health care professionals who help people die pain free, and with dignity.

I am thankful for all of the estate planners who help carry out the final wishes of dying people.

I am thankful for End of Life Insights, and the many blessings it has brought me this year.

Have a safe and blessed Thanksgiving.

For-Profit vs. Not-For Profit Nursing Homes

Consumer Reports recently published a report on their study of 16,000 nursing home state inspection reports. The study showed that not-for-profit nursing homes generally provided better care than for-profit nursing homes. “In 1987, Congress passed a landmark law meant to improve nursing home care for the elderly. But our investigation reveals that poor care is still all too common, especially at nursing homes run by for-profit chains, now the dominant force in the industry.”

Consumer Reports even lists several nursing home facilities that they specifically recommend that you avoid placing your loved one in, including homes in CA, CO, GA, IN, MN, MO, NJ, OH.

The statement and chart below come directly from the Consumer Report Website www.consumerreports.org

“We recommend that you avoid placing a family member in one of these facilities. If a relative already lives in one of these homes, you need to be extra vigilant about the care that person receives. Visit often and stay involved in the care planning. And finally, speak up if you notice poor care. Report any concerns to your local long-term-care ombudsman and state regulatory agency.”


Consumer reports rated only 2% of for-profit nursing homes with meeting their standards of quality care, and rated the not-for-profit nursing homes at a not-much-better 7.3%. More registered nurses and more staff are typically found at independently owned facilities.

Funeral directors and those involved in end of life care almost always have a mental list of nursing homes that they would or would not be a resident of. This is a result of their frequent visits to numerous nursing homes and their observations of odors, cleanliness, and organization of the staff. It may sound odd to ask a funeral director for their opinion on a good nursing home but don’t discount him/her as a resource.

To read the complete Consumer Reports article click here:

Consumer Reports - On Nursing Homes

Hospice Service Demographics

A recent Fox New article titled “Blacks Not Taking Advantage of Hospice Services” gives some interesting statistics about hospice demographics.

In 2005, 82.2% of those receiving hospice care were white, while 7.5% identified themselves are black or African-American. This according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

They also site, per the Census Bureau, that about 75% of the country is white, while 12% is black.

So, if Census Bureau stats are correct, then the hospice stats don’t really seem to be out of line. However, what is disturbing is that a 2007 report from the California Heath Care Foundation reported that some minorities and immigrants view hospice as a way for doctors to deny them the medical care based on race. In addition, some people think that by making the patient stay at home, and not in a hospital, the medical system doesn’t care about what is happening to them.

Therefore, this issue, not unlike several end of life issues, comes down to lack of understanding and education about a topic, or a service in this case.

Remember, no matter what your end of life service of product, the best way to advocate for all people, is through education.

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 http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/14156077/detail.html, and here’s the link to the video: http://www.thedenverchannel.com/video/14156089/index.html. 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.

Becoming a Teacher

As end of life professionals, we are really good at telling people why we live in a death denying society. But when was the last time you included yourself in the list of reasons?

Many of you are so good at your jobs that you just automatically take care of everything your family needs. "So what’s the harm in that?", you ask.

As we do things for families we have an obligation to teach them about what we are doing, or what we are about to do. When was the last time a doctor stuck you with a needle before telling you she was going to? You usually get the, “This will only hurt a little” line. Or my personal favorite as a needle is invading my vein, “Just a little poke.” My definition of little poke was apparently quite different than the last nurse who took my blood... My point is, teach as you go.

Tell a person what you’re doing, how you are going to do it, why you are doing to it, if they need to follow up with anything when they walk out of your door, or if everything is already taken care of.

Part of the reason that society doesn’t know what to expect when making end of life decisions is because they’ve not been taught. Someone else has always taken care of things, or perhaps it wasn’t their responsibility to make the decisions. While it's true that not everyone wants to know the what, why, or how, but those who do deserve to be taught.

In most situations, the WWII Generation will take you at your word as the expert in your field, but the Baby Boomers and Generation “X” are known for demanding to know the why, even before they know the how.

Start thinking of your families as students, and yourself as an educator; you’ll find you will have much happier clients.

12 Recession-Proof Careers

1. Doctor - $120,000

2. Teacher - up to $45,000

3. Mortician - $37,000

4. Waste Disposal Manager - $35,000

5. Scientist - $42,000-$70,000

6. Tax Collector - $38,000

7. Barber - $21,000

8. Soldier - $14,137 for basic enlisted personnel

9. Religious Leader - $34,000

10. Law Enforcement Officer- $62,700

11. Farmer - $15,603 (average net cash)

12. Construction Worker - $35,000

Those are the top 12 indestructible careers and their median annual salaries, according to a Career Builder article recently published on CNN. The first thing I need to get off my chest is… I hope in my lifetime the media will start referring to me as something other than a mortician. I despise that term. It brings to mind the picture of Lurch on the Addam’s Family when he would answer the phone and say, “You rang.” Funeral Director, Funeral Service Provider, Mortuary Science Practitioner…. there are plenty of other terms.

Now back to the article. Two items are troubling to me; who is missing from the list, and how little money the people are making in our supposed indestructible careers. Waste disposal mangers? Really? We need them more than nurses? Don’t get me wrong, I’m really glad that someone gets up in the morning and wants to manage and relocate my trash. But do I need that more than a nurse?

And a tax collector? Maybe if more people had a financial planner and a CPA we wouldn’t need so many tax collectors. And listing a barber makes about as much sense as adding tire store workers…after all most people own a car and need 4 tires.

So what about these horrible salaries? How can the workers in these careers make such little money if their jobs are so indestructible and the people are so needed? For some reason our society thinks that the people they need the most, they also have the right to have provided for them. How else do you explain the salary of the teacher? We don’t want to pay for what we think we are already owed.

I’ll be following this list of the most indestructible careers in the years to come. Teachers, doctors, and soldiers will always make the list, and rightly so, but in the years to come the number of those careers and their ties to our aging population will surely start to knock off the waste disposal mangers, barbers, etc.

Martha L. Thayer - Founder of End of Life Insights

As a funeral director and college instructor earning continuing education credit each year to maintain my certification, I can honestly write that I have been through some horribly long presentations, while listening to boring speakers trying to educate me on irrelevant topics. Thankfully though, I have also listened to dynamic speakers, with fascinating topics, all the while wishing I could get just another hour or two of information on the topic.

The educational units at End of Life Insights are designed to be dynamic, timely, and cover a multitude of topics. You won’t be selecting from the typical OSHA and government regulated issues which everyone offers, or be forced to participate in re-writes of topics you already studied of college. Instead you’ll be going on a virtual visit of the Imperial Tombs of China, may watch a funeral pyre on the Ganges River, or learn about the ancient Mayan afterlife, where the cause of death determined where the soul would reside for eternity. We will also timely topics like mentoring employees to increase retention in high burn out death related fields, and the real risk to those handling radioactive human remains.

I look forward to learning with you, and from you.