The staggering numbers of coronavirus deaths in some states have left funeral homes without enough personnel to manage the deceased. The National Funeral Directors Association has coordinated member, nonmember, and student volunteers to assist.
As of April 22, New York and New Jersey had almost 20,000 deaths related to coronavirus. Those deaths have left hospitals and funeral homes overwhelmed, so the National Funeral Directors Association stepped in to help.
NFDA organized a program to coordinate member, nonmember, and mortuary science student volunteers who wanted to assist funeral homes in states with a large number of COVID-19-related deaths.
“Just to give you an idea, our funeral directors are the most giving, kind people you want to come into contact with,” said Anna Bernfeld, NFDA senior vice president of member relations. “We have gathered over 800 volunteers for this project.”
The call for volunteers went out at the end of March, and when states have a need, NFDA sends them a list of volunteers who have offered to help.
In addition to coordinating volunteers, NFDA has served as a conduit for donations, which have included surgical masks, money, and even body bags. NFDA’s charitable arm, the Funeral Service Foundation, is helping defray costs for volunteers. “[FSF] set up a COVID-19 crisis response fund, which is reimbursing expenses incurred during the service of volunteers not covered by another entity,” Bernfeld said. Expenses covered include travel, lodging, food, and other items needed to assist.
As part of coordinating volunteers, NFDA had to deal with some logistical issues around licensure. “Initially, we were only able to provide [requesters in New York] with volunteers from New York, who were licensed funeral workers,” Bernfeld said. “Governor [Andrew] Cuomo, on April 9, provided out-of-state license reciprocity, allowing us to provide an additional 113 names to funeral homes who needed volunteers.”
Because of this issue, NFDA is talking to the National Governors Association about getting some national guidelines that allow for licensure reciprocity in emergency situations. Since hospitals don’t typically require licensed funeral professionals, students and out-of-state volunteers have been able to step in and help properly care for the deceased in overwhelmed medical facilities.
This is not the first time that NFDA has assisted in disasters, but the COVID-19 crisis has been very different. “We mobilized hundreds of volunteers to help at Ground Zero after 9-11,” Bernfeld said. “We also did the same in the Gulf Coast region after Hurricane Katrina. This is different. There are hotspots popping up, it’s across the country, and it’s a lot more fluid. Today we may help out in DC, and tomorrow it may be Louisiana.”
Despite the challenges, the organization is committed to keep sending volunteers. “We’re going to continue these efforts as long as the needs are out there,” Bernfeld said. “We are so grateful for our members in taking the care that they do as we face this unprecedented situation.”