Pandemic puts new pressure on funeral homes

Bill Schichtel of Heath Funeral Home in Lakeland says at least half the deaths he’s seeing are from COVID-19.

"I’ve never seen anything like it," Schichtel said.  

Part of the challenge for funeral homes is finding enough of the critical things the public doesn’t often see, such as cremation equipment and cold storage. 

"I am in the process myself of looking for a refrigeration truck," shared TJ Cohen of Cremations of Greater Tampa Bay. "My refrigeration is at capacity right now."

Schichtel says the state’s website, where funeral directors must report, has been down at times because of heavy use. The office manager at Cremations of Greater Tampa Bay says doctors have been so busy caring for the living, they often don’t have time to sign death certificates, causing delays.

"I think doctors are always traditionally busy, but it puts stress on us," said Dorothy Showalter. "People at facilities, hospitals, we’re all just doing the best we can."

Her company has two cremation machines that also serve several other local funeral homes. The equipment is off-site in an industrial area and seldom seen. But the machines are being used 24 hours a day right now to keep up with demand. 

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Cohen says decedents have been younger since the delta variant of COVID-19 arrived. Even people whose business is funerals say they feel worse for families because COVID-19 is taking their loved ones so young and so suddenly, sometimes without even getting to say goodbye. 

"They’re not allowed to go in and see mom or dad, it’s devastating to them," says Cohen.

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Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misidentified Dorothy Showalter's first name. This version has been updated.