Arizona Funeral Directors Board Audit Reveals Public, Employee Safety Risks

By Christina Estes
Published: Monday, November 9, 2020 - 5:05am
Updated: Monday, November 9, 2020 - 9:39am

A pattern of failure is revealed in a state audit of the Arizona Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers. The board is responsible for licensing and regulating businesses and people who provide funeral goods and services. 

Among its key findings, the Arizona Auditor General’s Office said the board: “licensed/registered applicants without ensuring they met key public protection protection requirements and did not properly perform funeral establishment and crematory inspections or perform some of these inspections within the required time frame.”

Auditors reviewed 47 applications for funeral establishments, crematories, embalmers, directors and salespeople. Performance audit manager Marc Owen said the board failed to ensure all requirements were met in 44 of the 47 cases. 

“If somebody had been, let’s just say, had been involved in some sort of fraudulent activity, that’s probably somebody that you would not want to be purchasing funeral services from and so that’s the type of issues that they would identify through some of these background checks,” he said. 

The audit also found the board did not properly perform some inspections of funeral establishments and crematories, potentially putting employees' health and safety at risk. 

“Rule requires these funeral establishments to have these procedures in place which would involve wearing appropriate clothing and gloves and those requirements are essentially in place to protect the embalmer while they’re performing that procedure so that, you know, in the event of some sort of accident they are not harmed," Owen said. 

By not checking those policies, he said the board cannot adequately or appropriately ensure employees are protected or performing procedures correctly.

Auditors also watched two crematory inspections where they reported board staff failed to verify written procedures for handling human remains.   

Sky Schaudt/KJZZ
A casket is prepared before a viewing at a funeral home.

“Obviously once you have cremated remains you need to be properly labeling them and identifying them so that you aren’t unfortunately providing someone with the wrong remains,” Owen said. “We didn’t identify any specific instance where that happened but the point we’re trying to make is that without those items in place the board-or these facilities are at risk of doing that and the board did not properly ensure that they are.”

The audit found the board could potentially be putting the public at financial risk by approving establishments to sell prearranged funeral arrangements without ensuring they had surety bonds in required amounts. The bonds help protect customers from financial loss in case an establishment cannot or will not fulfill its responsibilities to provide prearranged services.

State law requires inspections of funeral establishments and crematories at least once every five years. Auditors reviewed 30 inspections and found 5 businesses had not been inspected in more than five years. 

The audit includes 24 recommended changes and in a response letter dated Nov. 3, the board’s executive director, Judith Stapley, agreed to them all. 

Owen said the Auditor General’s Office will follow up with the board at least twice — in about six months and again in 18 months.

According to the board’s website, it oversees approximately 1,800 licensees practicing across Arizona. In fiscal year 2019, the Auditor General said the board conducted 48 business inspections. The governor appoints the seven board members to serve four-year terms. Board revenue comes mostly from licensing fees. 

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