West Michigan woman who dealt with misplaced cremains supports new state task force

A funeral home in Athens said they are in possession of "several boxes that contained cremated remains," after the company acquired them from the previous business owner who died in October. (WWMT/Jason Puhr)

Governor Rick Snyder is creating a new team to investigate issues at funeral homes across Michigan, after an increase in complaints and reports from Detroit about two funeral homes accused of improperly storing the remains of dozens of infants.

The remains of at least 30 people were discovered at an Athens funeral home in 2017, two years after cremation. WMU Homer Stryker School of Medicine (WMed) in Kalamazoo, where those remains were processed. One year ago, the remains were returned to family members. Newschannel 3 spoke to Julie Decker who was shocked when she was contacted, because she was under the impression she already had her mothers ashes.

Decker talked about the new state task force created by Snyder, led by the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) and the Michigan State Police.

"They don't know what's going on really in the funeral home business. We really need to find out," said Decker.

When Decker got a call last year from WMed about her mothers remains she was confused, because she already had an urn full of what she thought were her mom's ashes.

The new discovery caused doubt that was still lingered a year later,

"You don't know, I don't know. I'll never know," she said.

Decker said she was alarmed, but several unsettling cases out of Detroit where several boxes of infant remains found in two funeral homes there.

"I thought I was just something that just happened, a freak accident, but if it's going on other places I don't even know what to tell you. That's so scary," Decker said.

LARA announced Thursday that Snyder created a team to address complaints alleging funeral home mismanagement. According to a news release, that team will quickly deploy state resources when funeral home violations are discovered during inspections or complaints from the public. Officials involved with the new team did not respond to requests for more information.

"So how do you know if the funeral homes are really doing what they're supposed to be doing? That's the question," Decker said.

Decker is not the only one to express concern about the state's ability to uncover violations. Multiple funeral homes in West Michigan said it would be extremely difficult to uncover violations unless someone was willing to come forward with information.

According to LARA, there are seven regulators overseeing the practice of more than 2,000 mortuary science licensees and 751 funeral homes. The number of regulators used to be four, but Snyder added three new members to the team.

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