Some funeral directors are having issue with the closure of the borough’s only medical examiner’s office.
Since the Office of Chief Medical Examiner consolidated operations and closed the Bronx office at Jacobi Medical Center in June, problems have emerged in Queens and Manhattan, where the borough’s deceased are now taken, said Robert Ruggiero, executive director of the Metropolitan Funeral Directors Association.
According to the association, a trade group representing independent funeral directors, some bodies have been misidentified and released to the wrong funeral directors, and the chapels are facing longer wait times since the consolidation.
“We are trying to be supportive of the medical examiners...but consolidation is failing miserably,” said Ruggiero. “Management cannot control their people is what it boils down to.”
The trade group thought the new OCME system was going to work and that improvements would soon be seen, but three weeks into the new arrangement, nothing’s changed, he said.
According to MFDA, before OCME announced its closure of the Bronx and Staten Island morgues with little prior notification, OCME cancelled two meetings with MFDA, saying there were no pressing or imminent issues to discuss.
In previous meetings with MFDA, OCME assured the group it planned to construct a new $24 million mortuary investigative facility on the existing Jacobi campus only to later announce they scrapped the plan over a year ago and eliminated it from their budget, the MFDA stated.
The Bronx and Staten Island mortuary closures subject the public to extended wait times for OCME removal teams to arrive and take a loved one for examination, as well as extended wait times for funeral homes to pick up decedents from the OCME for funerals and burials, MFDA contends.
MFDA claims this decision results in more traffic, wasted fuel, parking issues and other service bottlenecks at the three remaining morgues and causes more suffering from families anxiously waiting for the removal of their loved one for burial or cremation.
Beginning earlier this month, OCME announced north Bronx decedents would be transferred to Queens for mortuary services whereas south Bronx deceased would be sent to Manhattan.
OCME only announced these changes on May 7, saying they would be transferring Bronx and Staten Island mortuary services to neighboring boroughs.
An OCME spokeswoman stated in response to travel time concerns that a number of Bronx deceased have been transferred to Queens for the last several years without imposing undue burden on funeral directors and families and estimated that cost of added tolls, fuel and times will be minimal.
Regarding the pickup process, the OCME spokeswoman said that the Queens and Manhattan morgues had each added a check out station.
She also added that a review of response times from borough detectives from the precincts with the highest homicide rates show an overall decrease in travel time when comparing the Manhattan facility to the facility at Jacobi Medical Center.
Despite these assurances, local funeral directors still have concerns.
“The transfer was done overnight and it’s had a large negative impact, not just for us, but for the families suffering a loss,” Patrick McNulty, Jr., McNulty Funeral Home director said.
“Everything’s at a standstill and we really don’t know what’s happening now; it’s chaos,” James McQuade, Schuyler Hill Funeral Home director said. “You can ask any funeral director in the Bronx, none of them are in favor of this transfer.”
“We have had to go to Queens in the past few months for removals, but one of the bigger issue with this transfer is how it will affect police investigations,” Sal Farenga, Jr., Farenga Brothers, Inc. Funeral Home director shared. “This decision was made without discussing it with the Metropolitan Funeral Directors Association or the borough president and it’s very disheartening as it seems the Bronx is last on everyone’s list.”
Farenga added the transfer should have taken families’ religious beliefs into consideration and the clergy he has spoken to share in this opinion.
A spokesperson for Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. said his office takes these concerns seriously and is investigating.