Indigent costs a concern for local funeral homes

Low cost grave site section of the Orchard Mesa Cemetery.

The two funeral homes in town that cremate the indigent are doing what they can to protect themselves from being stuck with the bill.

Callahan-Edfast Mortuary and Martin Mortuary are reminding Mesa County of its obligation to pay for the cremations of the indigent. Morticians are concerned that in an economy spiraling downward, those trying to save a buck will shirk financial responsibility for burying relatives.

“They are afraid people will start dropping bodies,” Dean Havlik, Mesa County coroner, told the Mesa County Commission on Monday.

“It hasn’t happened yet.”

Havlik reminded the commission of state law, its obligations to the poorest of county residents, and that he may need a budget increase later this year to pay for an increase in the number of indigent dead.

“When September or October rolls around, we may ask (the county commission) for more money to deal with those people,” Havlik said.

Havlik said his office gets about five indigent cases a year. There is an average of about five more indigent cases that come to funeral homes via hospitals or other sources.

If the indigent person comes through the coroner’s office, it is the county’s responsibility to pay cremation expenses. If the body arrives at the funeral home via any other avenue, the county is not obligated to pay.

So far this year the coroner has not had any indigent cases.

The county pays up to $500 for each indigent cremation. The mortuaries charge a minimum of $595, Havlik said.

“We have asked the county to work with us and take care of their obligation,” said Nikki Blackburn, co-owner of Callahan-Edfast. “We are trying to keep our doors open.”

Like any other business, funeral homes keep an eye on the bottom line. But until late last year the funeral homes had not bothered to pressure the county about expenses, absorbing some of the costs themselves.

“We weren’t getting much of anything before,” Blackburn said. “It was presented to them (the county commissioners) that there was a statute, and they took it to heart.

... We are just asking for them to help us with those expenses.”


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