NC funeral workers concerned that withholding cause of death amid pandemic could threaten their safety

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Funeral workers like Orrin Haywood, Jr. step up to the frontline when someone’s battle with COVID-19 is over. They help transport them from a hospital or nursing facility to the funeral home, where families say farewell.

“There is definitely a substantial risk,” said Haywood, who’s family has owned the Haywood Funeral Home since 1914. “Once we do the embalming process, that kills the virus. So prior to that, you have to be very careful.”

Haywood tells CBS 17 most families warned him that their loved one died of the virus, but says not all hospitals or nursing homes do. “My question is, why are we not given that information from the medical community?”

The North Carolina Board of Funeral Service sent a three-page letter to Gov. Roy Cooper and other state officials, concerned that the NCDHHS is advising hospitals and healthcare facilities to withhold the cause of death to funeral workers.

“We just simply request this information be disclosed to us so that we can protect our frontline workers when engaging a deceased that has potentially died from this disease, or has been diagnosed with it,” said Mark Blake, President of NC Board of Funeral Service.

In cases where facilities don’t release the cause of death, Blake tells CBS 17 lean on HIPPA laws, that protect patient information but leave funeral workers at risk for exposure.

He’s asking the state to add COVID-19 to a list of infectious diseases that healthcare facilities are required to disclose to funeral workers. Haywood hopes that day comes soon.

“If people in the medical profession would be more forthcoming, it’s not like we’re gonna spread information out,” he said. “It’s only for our protection.”

The North Carolina Funeral Service Board petitioned/asked the state to add COVID-19 to a list of infectious diseases facilities are required to tell them about when collecting bodies.

NCDHHS said it is reviewing the petition. 

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