County coroners, medical examiners say federal aid needed to care for deceased

Posted 14 December 2020 at 8:32 am

Press Release, New York State Association of Counties

With Covid-19 cases surging and counties across the state bracing for the worst of a second wave of coronavirus deaths, county coroners, medical examiners and funeral directors joined the New York State Association of Counties to issue a stark warning that in the absence of federal aid, they could face shortages of materials and financial resources needed to safely and respectfully care for the deceased.

With the number of Covid-19 related deaths in New York since March, county coroners, medical examiners, and local funeral directors are facing a myriad of challenges. From shortages in body bags, proper morgue space for the deceased, burying the indigent, county governments find themselves in the sensitive and often unspeakable challenges of caring for the deceased and their families during this global public health emergency.

“This global pandemic has overwhelmed resources in every county,” said Scott Schmidt, Orleans County Coroner  and President of the NYS Association of County Coroners and Medical Examiners. “We need funding. We need money for our protection, which in turn protects our families, it protects our colleagues, it enables us to do our jobs and with care and respect at all times. We have a sacred trust that we are charged with, but we can’t do it without the appropriate protection that we need.”

NYSAC Executive Director Stephen J. Acquario said “This 2nd wave surge in positive cases of COVID impacts all of our frontline public health care and emergency service workers and essential workers, but it also impacts the end of life essential health care workers – the county coroners and medical examiners. They are finding themselves short staffed and in need resources and a dedicated supply chain for personal protective equipment, including body bags. Ensuring dignity in death must remain our top priority and we must develop a ‘surge and flex’ model that can be used to devote support and assistance to coroners, medical examiners and funeral homes and cemeteries in the regions that are seeing higher increases in deaths.”

Counties have been leading the local response to the global COVID-19 pandemic since March, and staff and resources are becoming depleted. County officials are on the front lines working with the sick, the unemployed, the homeless, struggling business owners, families with special needs, those suffering from substance abuse and mental health issues, and even the deceased.

To ensure counties across the state have the resources they need to continue to lead the local response to the coronavirus pandemic, NYSAC is calling for Congress to pass legislation that includes the following.

  • Direct, flexible federal aid for all counties
  • Allocation formula and city-county funding split outlined in the HEROES Act (H.R. 6748 – the Direct Support for Communities Act)
  • Extension of the current deadline for Treasury CRF dollars until late 2021
  • Reasonable “guardrails” that ensure Covid-19 relief dollars are tied to the public health, economic and community impacts of Covid-19

Mike Lanotte, president of the New York State Funeral Directors Association, said “Funeral directors play is critical public health role in caring for the deceased. The challenges they have faced throughout the pandemic have been unprecedented, yet they remain committed and have professionally and with care fulfilled their role. The challenges will become even greater if financial deficits result in a lack of needed resources. NYSFDA supports all efforts to secure federal funding so that the death care industry continues to be able to fulfill its essential role throughout the pandemic.”