From the desk of Rob Kimes

Hello Members of the WVFDCOA,

I hope this message finds you healthy and safe.  These last few months have been challenging and I hope to bring everyone up to speed on information the Association must share.

The COVID-19 vaccine has been at the forefront of this office’s business for the last couple months. About six weeks ago, when the priority list came out funeral service professionals were not addressed, but through interaction with the Governor’s office and Joe Peal the director of the states vaccination program we were able to get Funeral Service Licensee’s, Crematory Operators, and front-line removal personnel over the age of 50 into a priority status.  To date, approximately 400 of the 695 eligible under the criteria of the program have received the first shot of the vaccine.  Outside of the 400 that have received the vaccine through states program, many have received their vaccinations through relationships with other groups they have a connection with such as, the volunteer fire departments, E.M.S., or participation in some other group that has an arrangement to administer the vaccine.  Some have declined the vaccine, and some sent their information in too late to get into this first round.  There is to be a second round of Funeral Service Professionals over 50 opportunity as soon as the state wraps up the physicians, nurses, and respiratory therapists.  Unfortunately, those funeral service personnel under the age of 50 will have to wait until the general population is vaccinated, which is projected for a time between June and October.

Death Certificates
I recently talked to Matt Wickert, who is the state registrar concerning the timeliness of death certificates.  His office is almost back to fully staffed and they will be adding a temporary helper to assist with the backlog.  This backlog was created by the COVID-19 virus and his office which usually has twenty-four personnel, was at one time down to nine.  He tried to stay as current as possible during the absence of a great portion of his staff, by bringing in people from other areas, authorizing unlimited overtime for those that were still working and hiring of temporary workers.  Even with those measures the office fell further behind due to an increase in deaths.  Now that the office is almost back to full strength, he is projecting better turn around times than those we were experiencing of six to eight weeks.

The electronic death certificate program was to the point of being able to have funeral homes test the program, until the vendor that has the state contract realized that they severely underestimated the bid and are in the process of renegotiating the cost of the contract.  The program has been put on hold and the state purchasing department is now working with the vendor to see if the agreement can be saved.  If the vendor would walk away from the contract, we may be back to looking for a new vendor or it could fall all the way back to needing legislative approval.  Either way, if the contract is not saved, we are unsure of the timetable we would be looking at to implement the system that was on pace to be activated by June 2021.

Department of Health and Human Services
In a recent announcement the Department of Health and Human Services have purchase four portable morgue units.  While volume seems to be higher than usual, I have received no calls from funeral homes needing the use of these morgues.  I feel that the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner may be the group that will benefit the most from these units, due to the backlog of cases that they seem to continually have.

Mid-Winter Advocacy Summit
The Mid-Winter Advocacy Summit will be March 10, 2021 at the Four Points by Sheraton in Charleston, W.V.  This annual event has been reduced to a one-day event due to the uncertainty of the Pandemic and the effect it would have on the Capitol advocacy event and our annual reception and the willingness of Legislators to attend an event with a large group of individuals given the current social distancing and other restrictions.  We hope to go back to the full schedule of events for 2022.

During the latest meeting of the WVBFSE, it was announced that our state board will put a Memo of Understanding into effect for Mortuary Colleges and funeral homes in this state to allow mortuary students to due clinicals in funeral homes within the borders of W.V.  There was no previous Memo of Understanding between the board, the mortuary colleges, and the funeral homes where the case work is to be completed. There was also no provision in the code to allow students to participate in prep room activities.

The Brave act was recently passed.  This act will allow certain payments for Veterans whether they die in a V.A. facility, another facility or in their home.  The amounts currently being paid for those veterans that pass in a V.A. facility will be the same if they pass away outside of a V.A. facility.  (See article in this newsletter).

With the increase of Webcasting of funeral services due to the Pandemic, there is a special license that each location that webcasting must have to stream when music is used.  This license is in addition to your annual music license that is purchased.