Death response plan from BAO addresses rising COVID-19 toll

The bereavement sector’s regulator has issued a registrar’s directive aimed at the professionals whom it licenses as the pandemic continues to spread.

The Modified Expedited Death Response (MEDR) Plan was issued last week and is effective immediately, and applies to all regions of the province, with the exception of some communities and areas in northern and western Ontario. Part of the plan, in a Bereavement Authority of Ontario (BAO) news release, has funeral/transfer staff required to attend at hospitals and long-term care (LTC) facilities within six hours of being advised the decedent is ready for release.


The BAO said the past month has seen a startling increase in the number of infections of COVID-19, with a death toll that is climbing steadily. But, the BAO said it remains confident that the bereavement sector has the capacity to cope with these increases without the need for drastic or extraordinary measures, such as refrigeration trucks or make-shift storage facilities.

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“(The BAO’s) confidence is contingent on two factors,” the statement read. “That decedents are transferred from the place of death into the care of a funeral professional and then to disposition expediently, and that the sector does not lose funeral homes or their staff due to infection.”

The MEDR, issued by Carey Smith, CEO/registrar of the BAO, applies to BAO licencees in different service categories of the bereavement sector, and announced measures include funeral/transfer staff members going inside the hospital/LTC if required to remove the decedent. (This is a change from the former EDR protocols in the first wave.)

Also, funeral/transfer staff members must make arrangements with the family within 24 hours of taking a body into care. Disposition must occur as soon as possible – there is to be no storing or stockpiling of decedents.

The BAO in the release noted the restrictions for visitations and services remain in effect: Maximum 10, scheduled visitations with no cycling of guests; 15-minute cleaning break between periods; guest logging for contact tracing and physical distancing must be enforced; and, everyone must wear a mask or face covering. Other areas of the directive include crematoriums and hydrolysis facilities are required to operate at full capacity to accommodate demand in their area. This means they must operate for sufficient hours to prevent delays or backlogs.

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Scheduled holds on cremations are prohibited.

And, all cemeteries have been directed to continue burials as long as cemetery managers determine ground conditions remain safe to do so. Interments are to proceed without delay to prevent storage and identification problems, and stockpiling.

Smith said reasons for the strategy include “maintaining the dignity and respect of decedents and families – (it’s) important for families to keep death care as ‘normal’ as possible; all religions hold the body as sacred.”

The plan also moves decedents from health-care to funeral sector without delay to place them into care of people best-trained and equipped to handle them. The strategy relieves burden on health-care, so that it can devote attention to the living.

And, it limits movement/transfer of bodies to prevent redundant handling, reduces chance for mistakes in identification and transfer, avoids mass storage of decedents in alternative facilities (trailers, arenas etc.), and it ensure that death care remains local rather than centralized outside of a community.

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