Area funeral homes adjust to COVID-19 restrictions

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Moss Service Funeral Home (Tribune file photo)

CULLMAN, Ala.- Area funeral homes are having to change the way they plan services as they adjust to guidelines set forth by the state. Local funeral homes have implemented new protocols and new innovative ideas. They also want the public to know they are prepared to handle the needs of the community and have plans in place in case COVID-19 deaths were to spike. 

Mike Pepple, general manager at Moss Service Funeral Home, explained, “Our protocols and guidelines are no different than the general public. We are held to the same number requirements and things for our services than any other gathering would be held to.”

The changes have led to innovative ideas to provide excellent service to grieving families. Moss is now offering several new options.

“We can do a service with a small family group and simultaneously broadcast it live by Facebook live,” Pepple said. “Also, outdoor service is easier to have the proper social distancing, so gravesides are a good option to help to accommodate the social distancing.”

They recently obtained an outdoor sound system to help in graveside services. Driveby viewings and drive-in services are also a couple of new ideas Moss is offering families.

“People can stay in their cars and we just broadcast that sound and just let the minister and musicians be out. Those are just some of the innovative ideas we are working with with different families to accommodate their needs,” Pepple said. “Another thing we are starting immediately is virtual arrangements. You can sit in the safety of your home and we can get you online on a webinar and use Docusign and we can take care of the full arrangements. You can select caskets, vaults and everything from the safety of your home. You can sign all the necessary paperwork and not have to come into the funeral home.”

Moss Service and Cullman Funeral Home are both offering full memorial services to families for no additional charge once the restrictions are lifted. 

Hilda Rodgers, owner of Cullman Funeral Home, added, “We are trying to do a private graveside service, limiting to the family, maybe 10 people or so. Later, once this passes, we will have a memorial service and let them have some closure and go ahead like a normal funeral except the body won’t be present then. The vault people have been asked to not even put out the chairs with the covers on them due to the virus.”

Rodgers said that they had a funeral on Thursday and the family opted for a small graveside service with plans for a memorial service at a later date. Cremations are continuing but funerals are limited. 

People have voiced concerns about the virus spreading and how funeral homes would handle the body of a person who passes away with Covid-19.

“We have to make the removal and use all guidelines of precaution. We are supposed to treat everybody anyway as a contagious person. We are supposed to gear up and all, during the embalming process, and that is what happens here,” Rodgers said. “The gown and the mask and all of that. Once they are embalmed and taken out into another area, you do not have to suit up to be around them. We use all precautions like they are always contagious.” 

One concern Pepple does have is a possible shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE)).

“As this is going on in our nation, the inability to obtain all the proper PPE and I have a very dedicated staff and right now we are very well covered,” He said. “But, to replace it and to get new PPE is and will continue to be a challenge I believe as long as this goes on for our nation.”

The team at Moss has been instructed to not worry about cost in their efforts to find the needed supplies.If the state were to experience a spike in deaths, the State Mortuary Team would be activated. One branch is hosted out of Cullman County and Pepple serves on that team.

“If the death toll got to the point that it was necessary to activate that team, there are actually extra supplies, big supplies, like we have some cool trailers and mobile embalming units that can be used statewide if it got to that,” Pepple said. “If we saw a spike, there is a mechanism in place through the Alabama Funeral Directors Association and the Alabama Coroner’s Association to address a mass fatality incident, whether it is natural or a plane crash. There is a mechanism in place to handle any mass fatality through a pandemic.” 

Pepple has been in communication with the National Funeral Directors Association during the Covid-19 pandemic. Twice a year, there are state conventions and there are quarterly meetings in the state.

“We all have a great working relationship. If we need anything the communication is there but it’s not like it’s an association communication,” Pepple said. “We are fortunate in Cullman. We’ve got a lot of great funeral directors in Cullman County and they are all there for the same reason we are here-to take good care of people.”

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