CAÑON CITY, Colo. — With more than 100 bodies improperly stored at the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose funeral home, many people are wondering, how did this happen?
The president of the Colorado Funeral Directors, Joseph Walsh, said there is no specific license required for people working in funeral homes. People working in funeral homes do not need a certificate, education or license. Instead, it is the funeral home itself that is required to renew their license every year. The Return To Nature's Funeral Home registration expired in November 2022.
Michael Hendry is the general manager of the Holt Family Funeral Home in Cañon City.
“In the state of Colorado we are very unique; we do not require licensing for funeral directors or education requirements for funeral directors,” Hendry said.
Hendry has a degree in mortuary science, but in the state of Colorado, it's not a requirement. He said, even though it is not a requirement, many of the funeral home directors he knows, do have a degree in mortuary science. Holt Family Funeral Home provides multiple services that a family might need for their loved one, including cremation and burial.
“We can help you and assist the families in any way that they need,” Hendry said. “Our funeral directors when they are meeting with the families are kept up to high standards,” Hendry said.
Hendry said according to state regulations, one of five things must happen within 24 hours of someone passing away.
“So an individual has to be embalmed, refrigerated, cremated, buried or donated to science,” Hendry said.
Holt Family Funeral Home also has their own policies in place.
“We make sure they have the proper identification on them so we can make sure who they are. Then we met with the family and talked about what the family needs and wants,” Hendry said.
Hendry said he is unsure how the investigation into the Return to Nature Funeral Home will impact the funeral home industry entirely. He did mention he believes people could become more involved in the process.
“If they want to come inspect our facility they are more than welcome to,” Hendry said. “We will show them where their loved one is kept. We will show them where they will be, where the disposition will take place. We're very open because we want our families to be comfortable with the services that we are providing. We want them to have faith in us and trust us and we understand that trust has to be earned,” Hendry said.
Just down the road from the Holt Family Funeral Home is Harwood Cremation And Funeral Service.
The owner of Harwood Cremation And Funeral Services, Lloyd Harwood said they always allow families to see and spend time with their loved ones, get closure and say goodbye.
“They can see their loved one and how they are taken care of until the time of burial or cremation, unfortunately that does not seem to be the case going on there,” Harwood said.
He is referring to the Return To Nature Funeral Home investigation. The Fremont County sheriff said the 115 bodies found were improperly stored inside the Return To Nature Funeral Home.
Hendry said improper storage of bodies means they were not refrigerated correctly.
“They are speaking mostly to the fact that there is no refrigeration there to keep the bodies at a cooler temperature,” Hendry said.
Hendry said proper storage is around 38 to 45 degrees of refrigeration, a fact everyone in the funeral home business knows.He also said the situation at the funeral home in Penrose, is very unusual.
According to Walsh, funeral home inspections are new in Colorado this year.
A law was passed this spring allowing the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies to inspect funeral homes. Before this year the department did not have authorization to do so.
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