On Wednesday, Nov. 6, at the invitation of Wells Gray Country Seniors’ Society, Drake Smith, owner of North Thompson Funeral Home, came to the WGCSS monthly meeting to speak about how changes to the BC Coroner's Service body removal service have impacted the citizens of the North Thompson as well as the viability of his business.
Smith explained the history of the work he has done under the direction of BC Coroner’s Service with regards to removing the body of a person who has died suddenly and unexpectedly outside of hospital.
He reminded the meeting that, when he set up his business eight years ago, there was a coroner working in this area. The coroner’s job is to ascertain the identity of the person who has died and how he or she died. The coroner has the authority to order an autopsy. With the establishment of North Thompson Funeral Home, the coroner at that time arranged for Smith to attend deaths and, under the coroner’s direction, to remove and transport the body to the funeral home until the family members made decisions about how they wanted to proceed.
Sudden death call outs are not pleasant events, he said. They often happen in inclement weather and difficult circumstances. Despite this, he considers his job to bring him “as close to a sacred moment” as it is possible to be. He described how people are in shock, often on high alert and how important it is to be sensitive and supportive. He has served the area from Heffley Creek to Blue River for the past eight years, often arriving on scene before the coroner.
Smith described the effect the unpredictable nature of his job has on his personal life. He is often interrupted during outings with his wife and needs to quickly shift from having a pleasant relaxing evening to his professional role of supporting in often tragic circumstances.
He said the fees for his services are regulated by the BC Coroner Service and the BC Funeral Association. Some areas of B.C. are covered by body removal contracts and some are not.
In May 2013, the BC Coroner Service decided to change the Kamloops contract area to include the Fraser Canyon (which was being served by a funeral home in Ashcroft) and the North Thompson. Bids were accepted on the entire contract only and North Thompson Funeral Homes does not have the resources to service the large area.
The successful bidder now services the greater Kamloops area, including as far north as Clearwater and south down the Fraser Canyon. There is no coverage between Clearwater and Blue River. Blue River is served from Prince George.
The results of this contract cause human suffering. Firstly, unfamiliar people will be coming from a long distance and the body will be transported to Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. This will not allow the family important time with their loved one as the body will be taken out of the community. If the family decides to hold services in the North Thompson, their loved one will be transported back at the family’s expense. There is a potential for families to choose to use funeral services in Kamloops. This affects North Thompson Funeral Home’s viability as there is a potential loss, according to past statistics, of approximately 22 clients a year.
As the current contract holder underbid the rates currently agreed on by the BC Coroner’s Service and the BC Funeral Association, it would not be financially feasible for North Thompson Funeral Home to seek a subcontract.
Compounding the difficulty of having service providers coming from afar, there currently is no coroner in this area. This causes distress to bereaved families as long waits in times of tragedy are not uncommon. At times coroners do not attend the scene of the death.
WGCSS agreed to meet on Nov. 14 to decide on what action needs to take place.