For Immediate Release: March 19, 2020
Contact: Jessica Koth, 262-814-1536, email@example.com
NFDA Scores BIG WIN for Funeral Service:
Homeland Security Names Mortuary Workers as Critical Infrastructure Workers
Brookfield, Wis. – At the urging of the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), guidance issued today by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) named mortuary workers as “critical infrastructure workers.” This underscores the vital role funeral directors and others who work in deathcare play in responding to the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
For more than a decade, NFDA has worked to ensure that during any mass-fatality event, mortuary workers are considered critical infrastructure workers. As the COVID-19 pandemic began to intensify globally and reach American shores, NFDA intensified its call to federal officials to solidify this classification.
The guidance noted words from President Donald Trump’s Coronavirus Guidance for America: “If you work in a critical infrastructure industry, as defined by the Department of Homeland Security, such as healthcare services and pharmaceutical and food supply, you have a special responsibility to maintain your normal work schedule.”
Mortuary workers, which the guidance defines as “Workers performing mortuary services, including funeral homes, crematoriums, and cemetery workers” and “Workers who coordinate with other organizations to ensure the proper recovery, handling, identification, transportation, tracking, storage, and disposal of human remains and personal effects; certify cause of death; and facilitate access to mental/behavioral health services to the family members, responders, and survivors of an incident,” are included in the “Healthcare/Public Health” category along with doctors, nurses, people performing testing and researchers. This essentially covers the full spectrum of those who work in deathcare.
This guidance helps define for state and local public health officials the professions that are essential to the COVID-19 pandemic response. The guidance specifically notes that critical infrastructure workers should have priority access to personal protective equipment and be exempt from “shelter-in-place” mandates. While the guidance does not address priority access for a COVID-19 vaccine once it is developed, this guidance does signal that critical infrastructure workers would take precedence. NFDA is planning to send a letter to DHS asking them to prioritize mortuary workers once a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available.
“The ability of funeral professionals to safely carry out their duties during a mass-fatality incident is paramount. We were very pleased to see NFDA’s efforts pay off when the federal government recognized mortuary workers as critical to the COVID-19 pandemic response,” said NFDA CEO Christine Pepper, CAE. “The role that funeral directors and cemetery and crematory workers are playing during the COVID-19 pandemic is critical. While their work may be overlooked, they are truly on the front lines in helping to care for pandemic victims and grieving families.”
NFDA is the world’s leading and largest funeral service association, serving more than 20,000 individual members who represent nearly 11,000 funeral homes in the United States and 49 countries around the world. NFDA is the trusted leader, beacon for ethics and the strongest advocate for the profession. NFDA is the association of choice because it offers funeral professionals comprehensive educational resources, tools to manage successful businesses, guidance to become pillars in their communities and the expertise to foster future generations of funeral professionals. NFDA is headquartered in Brookfield, Wis., and has an office in Washington, D.C. For more information, visit www.nfda.org.
Free Live Event: COVID-19: Communicating With the Public and Using Technology to Serve Families - March 19, 2020
Friday, March 20, 2020
9-9:45 a.m. CT
NFDA continues to lead the conversation and keep the funeral profession informed about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) situation. Join us for this free Facebook Live event that will cover:
You do not need to register in advance; simply watch live on Facebook on Friday
Please note: During the broadcast, if you notice lags in the audio or video feed, try refreshing your browser.
Tune In On Friday: https://www.facebook.com/NationalFuneralDirectorsAssociation/
A recording of this webinar will be posted to NFDA’s COVID-19 information page, www.nfda.org/covid19, within two hours of the live event.
The Governor/DHS has revised their prior Order to now prohibit gatherings of 10 or more people as of 5 pm today (March 17). The Order can be read here.
I note that houses of worship and religious services ARE NOT exempted. We have had several WFDA members say that a priest or pastor has claimed the Order can't apply to a church. This assumption is entirely wrong- churches are subject to the Order.
It is noted that the Order refers to "a single room or single confined or single enclosed place," which would imply that the Order does not apply to an open-air graveside service. However, it is clear that any gathering must maintain "social distancing" of at least 6 feet between individuals. How this would be accomplished, I leave to you as the creative professionals you are. I do think that it is reasonable for a funeral practitioner- as an officer of public health under Wisconsin law- to consider that because the social distancing requirement of 6 feet minimum would be very difficult to enforce at a graveside, the Order applies to graveside services even though they are outside.
Other questions that have been asked are whether this means that a funeral home could cycle individuals through for a visitation or whether it applies to an entire facility or just per room. The Order does not discuss the idea of "cycling" individuals through a facility. It does, of course, require the minimum of 6 feet of social distancing in all events. From a public health and communicable disease vector viewpoint, I do think that the idea of "cycling" individuals through your chapel is not an ideal situation. As we respirate the COVID19 would remain airborne even after any given individual had left the facility. As to the room v. facility question, the Order does discuss a single room, but it also discusses "single confined space or single enclosed place," which could be interpreted to mean a building or at least the wing of a building. We simply have no background to base our interpretations on because of the novel nature of this Order.
Further, I note that the Order does give discretion to a business to take greater precautions than the Order specifies. As such, you are free to make business decisions that would limit gatherings at a cemetery even if it is somewhat questionable as to whether the Order applies to open-air graveside services. In other words, you can decide that you will not be conducting any gravesides with more than ten people whether or not the Order actually prohibits such.
Please email or call if you have questions or concerns. This is a highly organic situation that was evolving day by day but is now changing hour by hour, as we see from the most recent Order of the Governor/DHS changing the gathering ban from less than 50 to less than 10 in just a few hours.
Best of luck to all of you as you serve your families during this trying time.
Michael D. Sharkey
General Counsel to the WFDA
Direct Dial: 952-525-6990
As of today at noon, “mass gatherings” (defined in the DHS Order) of 50 or more people are banned. Funerals and funeral homes are not exempted. This does not mean that you cannot have funerals, it just means that the number of attendees must be limited. As a person trying to run a business myself, I fully understand the frustration we are all feeling (I have had all my Court appearances in both Minnesota and Wisconsin for the rest of March cancelled by the court systems themselves). I note that the DHS Order specifically applies to religious and worship gatherings, so there is no carve out for a funeral Mass, service, or equivalent.
I leave it to you as funeral service professionals and business people as how to communicate this to the families that you serve.
Michael D. Sharkey, WFDA Legal Counsel
Gov. Tony Evers announced via Twitter today that he has directed the state Department of Health Services to ban gatherings of 50 or more people.
The order exempts infrastructure and services such as grocery stores, food pantries, childcare centers, pharmacies and hospitals.
The guv's office didn't immediately respond to calls seeking comment on how the order would impact bars, restaurants and other private businesses. His tweets also didn't indicate how long the ban will last. The guv tweeted more details would be announced at a 1:30 p.m. media briefing.
"This isn't a decision I made lightly and we understand this will have an impact on Wisconsin workers, families, businesses and communities, but keeping folks safe and healthy has to be our highest priority," Evers tweeted.
See the Twitter thread:
NFDA Special Bulletin:
CDC Releases Practical COVID-19 Guidance for Funeral Directors
NFDA continues to lead the conversation with federal officials about the role of funeral service as it relates to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) situation. At the request of NFDA and as a followup to the postmortem guidance released by the CDC in late-February, today, the agency released specific information about funeral and visitation services to help funeral directors safely care for people who have died of confirmed or suspected COVID-19.
Specifically, this answers the following questions:
Last week, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers signed into law 2019 Wisconsin Act 137 which will result in changes to the eligibility requirements for obtaining a funeral director license in Wisconsin. The legislation adopted to create this law change included amendment language which WFDA worked to add to the bill to require newly licensed funeral directors to complete continuing education in coursework in subject matters which will be useful to prepare new licensees to practice as funeral directors.
Under the new law, which takes effect on October 1, 2020, the academic requirements for a funeral director license are being changed from two years of college instruction in a course of study approved by the Funeral Directors Examining Board to 24 college semester credits in similarly approved coursework.
Additionally, the new law eliminates the requirement for completion of a 16-hour certification class prior to the completion of mortuary school. The existing apprenticeship requirement is retained, however applicants for a funeral director apprenticeship could either complete the 16-hour certification class or mortuary school. The previous requirement to complete the 16-hour certification class after completing mortuary school has been eliminated.
Finally, the new law will require newly licensed funeral directors to obtain four credit hours of continuing education in subject matters which the Funeral Directors Examining Board determines are useful to prepare a new licensee to practice as a funeral director. This coursework would need to be completed prior to the first license renewal date after the initial license was granted.
The legislation which resulted in the creation of Act 137 originated with school officials at the Milwaukee Area Technical College mortuary program and was backed by a number of Wisconsin funeral homes. The bill’s authors and supporters saw Wisconsin’s prerequisite for two-years of college coursework to be unnecessarily burdensome relative to most other state requirements. MATC officials believe a two-year Associate's degree program will be attractive to prospective funeral director licensees who previously would need to obtain the additional year of college credits required in Wisconsin.
When the legislation began circulating in the state Capitol, the WFDA Board of Directors took a position in opposition to the bill as initially drafted. The opinion of Board members was that as an association, the WFDA was open to considering modifications to the current educational requirements for licensees as long as there remained in place a sufficiently robust foundation of college level coursework. The proposed elimination of a certain number of elective credits could be enhanced in the bill by requirements for the Funeral Directors Examining Board to be more specific regarding the content of the remaining college course requirements.
As the legislative process continued, hearings before committees in both statehouses resulted in many hours of diverse testimony offered by supporters and opponents of the licensure bills while concurrent lobbying efforts for and against the legislation intensified in the halls of the Capitol.
Eventually, key legislative leaders convened a meeting of stakeholders in an effort to bridge the differences of opinions on the legislation. In that meeting WFDA’s suggestion was to agree to elimination of elective college prerequisites and replace a portion of that coursework with specific classes focused on preparing new funeral directors for the diverse demands of the profession in today’s world. Suggestions for topics for this coursework included insurance, celebrant training, mass fatalities and incidents, hospitality, crematory operation and funeral arranging.
After further discussions the bill’s authors agreed to seek an amendment to the legislation which would require a newly licensed funeral director to complete at least four credit hours of coursework in areas that the Funeral Directors Examining Board determines prepare a new licensee for practice as a funeral director. With this amendment, the WFDA notified legislators that it was withdrawing its opposition to the legislation and the modified bill moved quickly out of both committees and passed the State Assembly and Senate with no opposition.
The Funeral Directors Examining Board will now have the responsibility to promulgate an administrative rule to specify the coursework for new funeral director licensees which it determines will best prepare them for practicing in the profession in the complex world of the funeral directing today. WFDA will participate in this rulemaking to provide input into the areas of coursework which will ultimately be specified by the Examining Board.
Thank you to the many WFDA members who made the effort to contact your elected officials to express your opinion on this legislation over the past six months. The Associations’ ability to successfully influence the final shape of this law was a direct result of the many legislative contacts which were made by our members in regard to this legislation.
- Thomas Moore,WFDA Lobbyist
Thomas E. Moore Government Affairs, Inc.
WISCONSIN FUNERAL DIRECTORS ASSOCIATION
1502 W Broadway, Suite 102
Madison, WI 53713
(608) 256-1757 | FAX: (608) 646-7631
© 2023 Wisconsin Funeral Directors Association.
All Rights Reserved.