U.S. survey reveals biggest funeral chain’s prices were “significantly higher” than independent rivals

 

The largest funeral chain across Canada and the U.S., Service Corp International (SCI) has recently come under scrutiny.

A report done this year by the U.S.-based Funeral Consumers Alliance and the Consumer Federation of America found that median prices at SCI funeral homes in the U.S. for basic funeral services were “significantly higher” — as much as 72 percent higher in some instances  — when compared to the prices of independent funeral homes.

“Although media reports on SCI often described the company as the ‘Wal-Mart’ of funeral service, economies of scale don’t translate into cost savings for consumers,” Funeral Consumers Alliance executive director Josh Slocum said when the report was released.

“Quite the opposite,” he added, noting SCI uses “anti-consumer practices including relatively high prices that it fails to disclose adequately, aggressive sales that push customers to upgrade products purchased, and sloppy service that have led to court settlements as large as $80 million.”

The survey looked at the prices of 103 funeral homes in major metropolitan areas across the U.S., then compared prices at 35 SCI funeral homes in the same cities.

The survey examined the prices of three types of service found at every funeral home: a simple cremation, a simple burial, and a full service traditional funeral with a viewing of the body.

The survey found SCI funeral homes charge a median price of $2,700 for a simple cremation, compared with $1,562 for independent funeral homes.

Burial services at SCI funeral homes had a median price of $2,845, compared with $1,893 for independents.

Full service funerals cost a median $7,705 at SCI funeral homes, compared with $5,241 at independent funeral homes.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s “Funeral Rule” requires all funeral homes to hand consumers a paper price list when they visit a funeral home in person. The rule does not compel funeral homes to post general price lists online, where nearly all consumers turn to compare prices of goods and services.

“One of the most critical ways families can control their costs is by shopping around, just as they would for any other product, but it’s difficult to do that for funerals,” Slocum said.

He suggested the federal rule “really needs to be updated to [make it] be possible for consumers using the Internet” to compare prices.

“Families dealing with the death of a loved one are often struggling with a range of bereavement issues,” the Funeral Consumers Alliance said. “The pain of getting overcharged by a funeral home may only add to their grief.”

SCI responded to the survey in a statement, which said: “We take the rights of client families, the Funeral Rule, and other industry regulations and requirements seriously.”

Texas-based SCI, which operates under its principal brand Dignity Memorial, owns more than 1,000 funeral homes and cemeteries across the U.S., controlling about 16 percent of the funeral industry, the Consumer Funeral Alliance said.

For more information on the report, click here.

In British Columbia, the funeral industry is regulated by the Consumer Protection Branch, which requires funeral homes to provide price lists to potential customers.

If a funeral home doesn’t provide a price list when requested, they are in violation of regulations. If a funeral home fails to comply with those regulations, the consumer has the right to file a formal complaint with Consumer Protection B.C.

Funeral service providers also must advise B.C. consumers of the right to cancel a funeral contract. Consumer rights can be found by going to the website www.funeralrightsbc.ca

To learn more about inspections and complaint-handling by Consumer Protection BC, read this backgrounder.

Funeralwatchdog.com was established to increase awareness of consumer rights when dealing with the funeral industry. It was also established to honour the memory of our mother, Holly Haliburton, 95, who died on Feb. 2, 2013 in Vancouver, Canada.

Days after Holly’s death, we had a horrible experience with a local funeral home operated by SCI, resulting in a lawsuit against the company by the Haliburton family, and against St. Paul’s Hospital and its board.

The Haliburton family also has been working with the Danylowich family of Vernon, B.C., who filed a lawsuit against SCI after the 2014 death of their mother, Kathleen (Kae) Danylowich, 90, who was cremated before the family had a chance to say their goodbyes at a memorial service.

Holly’s son, Jim Haliburton said: “We are working together for positive changes in the way the funeral industry operates in Canada. It is hoped that such pro-active consumer pressure will also encourage like-minded U.S. consumers to carry the same cause forward in the United States.”

He added: “In order to accomplish the needed changes, both families believe that consumer awareness is the way for Canadians to receive a fair and level playing field in the funeral industry marketplace.

“Consumers deserve and must demand funeral provider accountability, responsibility and fair-market pricing for all products and services. Mandatory safeguards are required.
Canadians need strong regulatory protection with fair and just consequences for those who break the rules. In addition, support of independent Canadian providers should be encouraged.”

Haliburton suggested “consumers deserve a nationwide funeral industry Code of Ethics that is clearly and easily understood by both consumers and providers. Strict checks and balances must be in place from the time of passing until the family’s final wishes are realized.

“Also, providers must meet ethical standards regarding care, compassion, respect, emotional support and dignity. Educate consumers and they will make better decisions for their families,” Haliburton said.

“Finally, we will pursue legislative reforms at all levels of government so no family will ever have to endure what our families have.”

Jim Haliburton and John Danylowich are both featured in a new documentary, A Death in the Family, which aired Oct. 12, 2017; it is mainly the personal story of Canadian journalist Blake Sifton, whose family has owned a funeral home for more than 90 years:

Jim Haliburton wrote this about his mother:

HOLLY MARGARET HALIBURTON   12/13/17– -2/17/13

WHAT CAN ONE SAY ABOUT HOLLY?
A DAUGHTER, A SISTER, A MOTHER AND A FRIEND
SOMEONE WHO SAW THINGS AS THEY WERE

SHE WAS NEVER JUDGEMENTAL, ALWAYS KIND AND UNDERSTANDING
SHE CAME TO THIS WORLD IN 1917, ONE OF TWELVE CHILDREN.
SHE SAW THE BIRTH OF THE AUTOMOBILE, AIRPLANE AND TV
SHE WITNESSED A WORLD DEPRESSION, DEVASTATING WARS AND INJUSTICE
YET SHE ALWAYS SAW GOOD, THE BEAUTY OF NATURE AND EMBRACED LIFE

HOLLY HAD MANY SIDES

A NURTURER WHO WOULD WELCOME THOSE WHO NEEDED A HAND
HER GENTLE AND CARING WAYS ARE STILL IN THE MEMORIES OF MANY
SHE HAD NO ENEMIES AND CHILDREN LOVED HER GINGER BREAD COOKIES
AS HER SON, I HAVE BEEN BLESSED BEYOND ALL MEASURE
SHE WAS ALWAYS THERE…..SOMETIMES THE ONLY ONE
WHEN I PLAYED SPORTS, SHE WAS ON THE SIDELINES
WHEN LIFE BEAT ME UP, SHE WOULD SEE ME THROUGH
HOLLY WAS THE BEST INVESTMENT GOD EVER MADE!

91 POUNDS OF INSPIRATION WITH TRUE GRIT AND N0-QUIT, INTENSELY ENERGIZED
SHE EXUDED CLASS, WORE 40 YEAR OLD CLOTHES THAT LOOKED BRAND NEW
I WILL REMEMBER HER “KATE HEPBURN-LIKE” STUBBORN FOCUS
SHE LOVED TO SEW AND KNIT, SMOKE CAME OFF HER KNITTING NEEDLES
I FOUND PEACE AND COMFORT WATCHING HER CREATE SOMETHING FROM NOTHING
HER GREATEST ROLE WAS BEING HER DAUGHTER’S BIGGEST FAN
JACKIE, NEAL, RACHAEL, BECKY AND ELI WERE IN HER THOUGHTS DAILY
AND FINALLY, THERE WAS JACK, THE LOVE OF HER LIFE!

DAD WAS AN UNSTOPPABLE FORCE, HOLLY HELD ON TIGHT…SHE WAS THE GLUE FOR 52 YEARS. THEY WERE MAGIC.
NEVER, EVER A HARSH WORD OR A RAISED VOICE
IN THE PAST FEW YEARS, HOLLY HAD TO CARRY ON WITHOUT DAD
AND HER LOSS OF VISION WAS A DEFINITE CHALLENGE, PICTURES WERE NO COMFORT

SHE OFTEN CALLED ME JACK AND I DIDN’T CORRECT HER

I BELIEVE MY PIANO PLAYING AND CONSTANT WHISTLING HELPED SOFTEN HER PAIN
MY WISH FOR ALL OF YOU IS THAT YOU HAVE A HOLLY IN YOUR LIFE
LIKE THE AMAZING BEAUTY OF A COMET ACROSS THE BRILLIANT NIGHT SKY
SHE WAS A FAST MOVING BEACON OF POSITIVE LIGHT WHO LEFT US IN AWE
SOMEONE WHO HAD A MEANINGFUL, LONG LIFE BUT, WAS STILL…..GONE TOO SOON!

Holly Haliburton in 1946, when she was 29.

 

Advertisements
Posted in Complaints about funeral homes | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The sad but inspiring story about the life and death of John Shields

John Shields died earlier this year at 78. New York Times photo by Leslye Davis

The New York Times recently published a great story about the life and death of former B.C. union leader John Shields, who was tormented by an incurable disease.

It details how, with the help of his family, friends and his doctor, he choose to live and die. The NYT times story by Catherine Porter is here.

Shields was the former president for 14 years of the B.C. Government Employees’ Union, the biggest union in British Columbia, Canada.

Under his tenure, the union went from 20,000 members to about 58,000. He was also a former Catholic priest, social worker, civil rights activist and “the savior of a floundering land trust that included 7,191 acres of protected wilderness and historic properties,” the story said.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Metro Vancouver woman furious after father’s body moved from Delta Hospital morgue by funeral home without family’s consent

Delta Hospital. photo credit: Fraser Health

Vancouver radio station CKNW recently brought another case to light of a local funeral home removing a body from the morgue of Delta Hospital without the family’s permission.

Sherry Smallwood told senior reporter Charmaine de Silva that she never hired Delta Funeral Home to take the body of her father, Tom Smallwood, who died June 16.

She says she just phoned the funeral home to check prices of funeral services and later got a call from the funeral home, saying “Oh we just want you to know that we’ve picked up your father from Delta Hospital from the morgue and he’s with us now.”

She was furious that the funeral home took her father’s body without the proper signed documentation.

Fraser Health Authority later admitted protocol wasn’t followed and apologized. The full story is online here.

Consumer Protection BC has laws and regulations concerning the operations of the funeral industry in B.C., including a law that a body cannot be removed from a morgue by a funeral home without a signed consent form.

To learn more about funeral and cremation consumer rights, go to www.funeralrightsbc.ca

 

 

Posted in Complaints about funeral homes | Tagged | Leave a comment

You Could Pay Thousands Less For A Funeral Just By Crossing The Street, says NPR series

The NPR series detailed how Ellen Bethea, shown here at her home in Jacksonville, Fla., paid $7,000 for her husband’s cremation and funeral. She was unaware that the same company offered the same cremation services for much less.
Photo credit: Laura Heald for NPR

National Public Radio recently aired a two-part series on the U.S. funeral industry, finding that funeral homes often make things confusing for consumers by not listing prices for services online so people can shop around and compare prices.

This is despite the federal Funeral Rule, enacted in the U.S. in 1984, requiring funeral homes and related businesses to give consumers an itemized price list when they talk to them in person, and give them clear price information over the phone.

(It is also the law here in British Columbia — funeral providers must give customers prices for various services. For more info, go to  www.funeralrightsbc.ca or click here.)

“That culture of secrecy persists in what’s now known as the death care industry,” the NPR series concluded. “A kind of strategic ambiguity about prices is part of the business model.”

The series found a case where a person could pay thousands less just by crossing the street and paying for a cremation at another funeral home outlet.

One of those interviewed for the NPR investigation was Ellen Bethea, whose husband Archie died in November 2015. The couple had been married for almost 50 years. Beathea, when asked by the hospital what funeral home she wanted to use, knew of only one in town: Hardage-Giddens Funeral Home of Jacksonville. She knew it had a good reputation because some of her family and friends had used it.

After meeting with a funeral home staff member the next day, Bethea walked out with a bill of over $7,000, including $3,295 for Archie’s cremation. The NPR investigation found that the cremation price was more than twice the amount charged elsewhere in Jacksonville by the same company that owns Hardage-Giddens.

“The cremations are done in the same place and in the same way,” NPR reported, noting the funeral home Bethea chose was owned by Service Corporation International (SCI), based in Houston.

SCI claims 16 percent of the $19 billion North American death care market, which includes the U.S. and Canada. The company says it has 24,000 employees and is the largest owner of funeral homes and cemeteries in the world.

“In a months-long investigation into pricing and marketing in the funeral business, also known as the death care industry, NPR spoke with funeral directors, consumers and regulators,” NPR said.

“We collected price information from around the country and visited providers. We found a confusing, unhelpful system that seems designed to be impenetrable by average consumers, who must make costly decisions at a time of grief and financial stress.

“Funeral homes often aren’t forthcoming about how much things cost, or embed the information in elaborate package deals that can drive up the price of saying goodbye to loved ones.”

The first part of the NPR series in here and the second part is here.

The NPR series also provided this  Shopping Tips for Funerals:

As a consumer, you’re likely at a significant disadvantage, and it’s not just because of your emotions. Prices are seldom online and it’s hard to know what to ask. Based on NPR’s reporting and tips from Funeral Consumers Alliance and the Federal Trade Commission, here are ways you can help level the playing field:

  • Ask for prices of the specific items you want to buy. The federal government requires that 16 standardized goods and services appear on every funeral home’s general price list.
  • If a loved one is near death, start looking at options in advance, when you’re not under pressure to make a decision. Make calls to funeral homes or drop by and ask for a general price list.
  • If planning your own funeral, put your wishes in writing and discuss them with your family. Ask for itemized price quotes from the funeral homes you visit.
  • When visiting a funeral home, bring along someone trustworthy, who is not grieving.
  • Don’t disclose financial information about your inheritance or the size of your loved one’s insurance policy until you have settled on how much you will pay.
  • Know the boundaries of your relationship with a funeral director or salesperson. While they may be empathetic, their first responsibility is to their business’ success. Also, salespeople may be working on commission, so they may have an interest in your paying as much as possible.

NPR also provided these helpful links:

 

Posted in Complaints about funeral homes | Tagged | Leave a comment

Funeral director accused of embezzling ordered to repay $500,000

Baloney Funeral Home, right. Photo from the website of St. John The Baptist Parish.

Afuneral director in the New Orleans area, who was accused of embezzling more than $500,000, has been ordered by a judge to repay that amount to her brother — the owner of the funeral home.

According to a story published earlier this month in the New Orleans Advocate, Carmen Baloney, the funeral director, was ordered by a state district court to pay $500,000 to the Baloney Funeral Home of LaPlace.

“Carmen would take insurance checks to pay for funerals and cash them at a local grocery store,” Carl Baloney Sr., owner of the business, told the New Orleans Advocate. “The Baloney Funeral Home honored all of the pre-paid funerals where money was embezzled.”

After being confronted with evidence of her crime, Carmen Baloney signed an agreement to repay the money that she took from the company, but she did not make any payments. Her brother had to file a lawsuit against her to recover the money that she had promised to repay.

The owner said he didn’t press criminal charges because he didn’t want his sister to go to jail. It has been a very sad time for both him and his family, he said.

Carl Baloney pointed out that his sister not only stole from him, but also the customers.

The company’s website states: “Serving with honesty and integrity for nearly 60 years!”

 

 

Posted in Complaints about funeral homes | 1 Comment

CBC Marketplace undercover hidden camera investigation of the funeral industry

Death isn’t what is expected in this CBC hidden camera investigation of the death industry:

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Cemetery owners face criminal charges — theft of customers’ money

ted-martin-charged

Theodore “Ted” Martin Jr., 52.Photo source: Record-Courier, Ohio.

arminda-myndi-martin-charged

Arminda “Mindi” Martin, 42.Photo source: Record-Courier, Ohio.

A couple that owned a cemetery in Delaware, Ohio has been charged with dozens of counts of theft from customers, allegedly for taking money for grave markers and other services that were never provided.

Ted Martin and Myndi Martin were charged in a 54-count indictment last week, accused of taking money from at least 44 families and never delivering on their promises.

They owners of the financially troubled cemetery were previously investigated by tax authorities for failure to pay more than $120,000 in federal taxes.

According to ABC6 TV news, which began a year-long investigation after a complaint from an unhappy customer, the Martins pled guilty last year to income tax evasion for hiding income from the three cemeteries they owned.

“Myndi is currently serving her sentence. Ted is supposed to start his in August. They also face felony charges in Portage County and in York County, Pennsylvania,” the TV station reported last Friday.

The Martins owned the Fairview Memorial Park in Delaware, Ohio, Grandview Memorial Park in Ravenna, Ohio, and Suburban Memorial Gardens in Dover, Pennyslvania.

Delaware County Prosecutor Carol O’Brien told the ABC6 that the Martins victimized at least 44 families who pre-paid for grave markers, grave spaces and vaults which they never received.

“I can’t imagine anything worse than when a loved one dies, the loved one or those around them have taken the time to prepare for something like this and realize that you have to go through it all again and you have to come up with the money and you have to go through the picking out of all the casket and the grave marker and all of that again,” O’Brien told the TV station. “It’s just heinous.”

ABC6 reported that “during an exclusive interview earlier this month, Ted Martin blamed his troubles on the previous owner, whom Martin said had hid financial problems.” To take care of families, Martin admitted to “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” it reported.

The TV station began its investigation of the cemetery owners after a complaint from the family of Tom Murfield, who died two years ago. The Murfields had pre-paid for a permanent grave memorial decades ago but it was never delivered.

According to the Record-Courier newspaper in Ohio, a grand jury last year handed up a 24-count indictment against the couple in relation to  Grandview Memorial Park cemetery in Ravenna, Ohio.

The couple were charged in relation to that cemetery with “crimes related to the operation of the cemetery, including multiple counts of tampering with records; failure to establish a cemetery trust fund; failure to deposit sales proceeds into a cemetery trust; failure to appoint cemetery trustees; failure to file annual reports and affidavits and misdemeanor charges of failure to register a cemetery,” the Record-Courier reported.

The allegations against the Martins should remind customers to know where documents are located for pre-paid funeral services before a loved one dies so you can carry out their wishes without going through further grief and stress.

The funeral industry has billions of dollars worth of pre-paid funeral services, which are required by law to be kept in trust until the customer dies.

Also be aware of what services have been pre-paid for. Some funeral homes will try to “upsell” grieving customers into upgrading caskets and other services not originally contemplated.

U.S. funeral services consumers should go to the Funeral Consumers Alliance for more information.

Pre-paid funeral services are called “pre-need” services in British Columbia and are regulated under the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act. The industry is also regulated under the Cremation, Interment and Funeral Services Act.

Those laws are administered by staff working in the B.C. Consumer Protection Branch, which has a website informing cemetery and funeral service consumers of their rights: https://www.consumerprotectionbc.ca/cemetery-funeralservice-portal

The Consumer Protection Branch also has the power to impose fines against funeral service providers for violating regulations in B.C..

The branch recently imposed a $1,000 fine against a Chilliwack funeral service provider, McLean’s Funeral Services & Crematorium, and a compliance order that they abide by the law after finding McLean’s “provided funeral services without the written authorization from the person who, under section 5 of CIFSA [control of disposition of human remains or cremated remains] has the right to control the disposition of the human remains, contrary to section 8(1) of the CIFSA.”

That decision is online here.

Fischer’s Funeral Services & Crematorium Ltd., located in Salmon Arm, BC., was also recently fined $800 for violating consumer protection laws, and Arbor Memorial Inc. (doing business as Richmond Funeral Home Cremation & Reception Centre) was fined $500 for violating consumer protection laws.

Also, Squamish Funeral Chapel & Crematorium was recently fined $100 for violating consumer protection laws involving a pre-need contract and another $100 fine for “failing to include a space for the written acknowledgement by the consumer that the consumer had received the information required by section 35 to be disclosed, contrary to section 36 (1)(d) of the BPCP Act.”

This site is dedicated to the memory of our mother, Holly Haliburton, who died four years ago this month. We established this website after having a bad experience with a North Vancouver funeral home. You can read more here about what happened

 

Posted in Complaints against cemeteries | Tagged | Leave a comment