Ian Elliott of Arbutus Funeral Services in Langley is worried about running out of basic supplies like protective gloves. Across B.C., funeral homes are having trouble sourcing more PPE. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)

Funeral homes face PPE shortage as COVID crisis continues

From Langley across the country, funeral professionals need PPE to stay safe

Funeral homes in Langley and across the province are facing a potential shortage of personal protective equipment even as they have to transport and prepare for burial those who may have died of the coronavirus.

Ian Elliott of Langley’s Arbutus Funeral Services knows the difficulties of holding a funeral in a time of physical distancing.

His firm isn’t holding indoor funerals, with graveside services for a few people the only option for many right now.

But the work funeral homes provide behind the scenes is becoming increasingly difficult because of a worry about running out of PPE.

When someone dies in a hospital or care home, it’s funeral homes that undertake transport and get the bodies of the deceased to the funeral, the grave site, or a crematorium.

It’s unknown if there’s any danger of contracting COVID-19 from a deceased person, so there’s no way of knowing if it’s safe to handle them. And because PPE is almost entirely disposable, users go through it quickly.

“Hospital professionals are your first line of defence,” said Elliott. “Funeral professionals are your last line of defence.”

READ ALSO: Langley Mounties lose beards to PPE mask requirements

Workers are worried about possible exposure to COVID-19 in the course of their duties.

“My suppliers who I deal with, they supply all my masks and gloves, they are completely out of the N95 masks, any other masks, the face shields,” said Elliott.

Even simple items like hand sanitizer are either hard to find or have shot up in price, he said.

Funeral professionals were listed by the B.C. government among groups that need PPE to do their jobs – but Elliott said they were located on page four of the list, near the bottom.

It isn’t just a problem for Arbutus or other small, local firms.

“Our profession, right across Canada and the U.S. for that matter, PPE is hard to come by for sure,” said Jason Everden, president of the B.C. Funeral Association.

He said it’s big, international firms as well as the family-owned funeral homes facing the crunch.

The funeral supply firms that sold equipment, including PPE, to most chains and funeral homes, ran out of PPE early on in the crisis. Other PPE suppliers started limiting orders.

“And then, everyone was out,” he said.

“They’ve got less than three months supply, on average,” Everden said of funeral homes in B.C.

The association managed to get some PPE for its members by going through dental suppliers, who were sitting on some gloves and other items after dentists shut their doors.

What PPE is available is now often doubling in cost, with prices still volatile.

Everden acknowledges that doctors and nurses need the PPE first.

“But we also need it to protect our staff.”

British ColumbiaCoronavirusDeathfuneralLangley

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

District looking for public input on cycling plan

Survey is open to the public until May 25

A second wave of COVID-19 is probable, if history tells us anything

B.C.’s top doctor says that what health officials have learned this round will guide response in future

Flooding highly unlikely this year throughout Skeena watershed

Region’s snowpack among lowest in the province

Cameras and convoys: Graduation in the age of COVID-19

Schools in Terrace and Kitimat are thinking outside the box to give students a graduation ceremony

LIVE: Procession to honour Snowbirds Capt. Jennifer Casey comes to Halifax

Snowbirds service member died in a crash in Kamloops one week ago

Bike shops busier than ever, but owners worry about stock supply issues

Uptick in cyclists brings new challenges for shops

RCMP facing ‘systemic sustainability challenges’ due to provincial policing role

Provinces, territories and municipalities pay anywhere from 70 to 90 per cent of the cost of the RCMP’s services

One man dead after standoff with Chilliwack RCMP

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the RCMP’s role in the death

B.C. employers worry about safety, cash flow, second wave in COVID-19 restart

A survey found 75 per cent of businesses worry about attracting customers

Introducing the West Coast Traveller: A voyage of the mind

Top armchair travel content for Alaska, Yukon, BC, Alberta, Washington, Oregon and California!

Ex-BC Greens leader Andrew Weaver says province came close to early election

Disagreement centred on the LNG Canada project in northern B.C.

Canada’s NHL teams offer options to season-ticket holders

Canadian teams are offering refunds, but also are pushing a number of incentives to let them keep the money

B.C. premier says lessons to learn from past racism during response to pandemic

B.C. formally apologized in the legislature chamber in 2008 for its role in the Komagata Maru tragedy

Most Read