Ian Elliott of Arbutus Funeral Services in Langley is worried about running out of basic supplies like protective gloves. Across B.C., funeral homes are having trouble sourcing more PPE. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)

Funeral homes face PPE shortage as COVID crisis continues

From Langley across the country, funeral professionals need PPE to stay safe

Funeral homes in Langley and across the province are facing a potential shortage of personal protective equipment even as they have to transport and prepare for burial those who may have died of the coronavirus.

Ian Elliott of Langley’s Arbutus Funeral Services knows the difficulties of holding a funeral in a time of physical distancing.

His firm isn’t holding indoor funerals, with graveside services for a few people the only option for many right now.

But the work funeral homes provide behind the scenes is becoming increasingly difficult because of a worry about running out of PPE.

When someone dies in a hospital or care home, it’s funeral homes that undertake transport and get the bodies of the deceased to the funeral, the grave site, or a crematorium.

It’s unknown if there’s any danger of contracting COVID-19 from a deceased person, so there’s no way of knowing if it’s safe to handle them. And because PPE is almost entirely disposable, users go through it quickly.

“Hospital professionals are your first line of defence,” said Elliott. “Funeral professionals are your last line of defence.”

READ ALSO: Langley Mounties lose beards to PPE mask requirements

Workers are worried about possible exposure to COVID-19 in the course of their duties.

“My suppliers who I deal with, they supply all my masks and gloves, they are completely out of the N95 masks, any other masks, the face shields,” said Elliott.

Even simple items like hand sanitizer are either hard to find or have shot up in price, he said.

Funeral professionals were listed by the B.C. government among groups that need PPE to do their jobs – but Elliott said they were located on page four of the list, near the bottom.

It isn’t just a problem for Arbutus or other small, local firms.

“Our profession, right across Canada and the U.S. for that matter, PPE is hard to come by for sure,” said Jason Everden, president of the B.C. Funeral Association.

He said it’s big, international firms as well as the family-owned funeral homes facing the crunch.

The funeral supply firms that sold equipment, including PPE, to most chains and funeral homes, ran out of PPE early on in the crisis. Other PPE suppliers started limiting orders.

“And then, everyone was out,” he said.

“They’ve got less than three months supply, on average,” Everden said of funeral homes in B.C.

The association managed to get some PPE for its members by going through dental suppliers, who were sitting on some gloves and other items after dentists shut their doors.

What PPE is available is now often doubling in cost, with prices still volatile.

Everden acknowledges that doctors and nurses need the PPE first.

“But we also need it to protect our staff.”

British ColumbiaCoronavirusDeathfuneralLangley

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Brody Peterson told The Gazette he intends to dispute tickets issued by Grand Forks RCMP at his backyard “house warming” Saturday, Oct. 10. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Brody Peterson told The Gazette he intends to dispute tickets issued by Grand Forks RCMP at his backyard “house warming” Saturday, Oct. 10. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Grand Forks RCMP recommend criminal charges after weekend party

Homeowner Brody Peterson said he’ll dispute tickets for refusing police instructions, alleged COVID violations

The outhouse at the Milburn Lake Public Access before the Oct. 17 work bee. (Photo Submitted)
Volunteers fix foundation of Milburn Lake Public Access outhouse

The Bouchie Lake Watershed Stewardship Society recently held a work bee at the site

An air cadet and RCMP officer stand guard over Quesnel’s Cenotaph during the 2019 Remembrance Day ceremonies. The COVID-19 pandemic has cancelled all public memorial ceremonies set for Nov. 11. (File Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Quesnel Remembrance Day ceremonies on hold for 2020

There will be no public event, but residents are encouraged to observe two minutes of silence

Cariboo Regional District Area A Director Mary Sjostrom, School District 28 board chair Dave Chapman and Quesnel Mayor Bob Simpson plant ceremonial shovels into the ground at what will become Quesnel’s newest school during a ceremony Tuesday, Oct. 20. (Cassidy Dankochik Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Construction begins on new Quesnel Junior School

A groundbreaking ceremony was held to kick off the two-year project

B.C. Conservative Leader Trevor Bolin and Cariboo North candidate Kyle Townsend were practising proper physical distancing during a campaign stop in Quesnel on Saturday, Oct. 17. (Cassidy Dankochik Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Bolin first party leader to visit Quesnel

The B.C. Conservative Pary’s leader made the stop to support Kyle Townsend

FILE – People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Thursday, August 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
167 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death recorded as B.C. enters 2nd wave

Three new healthcare outbreaks also announced

A glimpse of some of the 480 (approx) cars written off as a result of the acid spills along the Trail highway in 2018. Photo: Trail Times
Kootenay Ford dealer’s frustration grows with ICBC

Trail AM Ford owner Dan Ashman says he just wants fair compensation from ICBC

Mail-in ballot from Elections BC (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
At least 26% of eligible voters have already cast a ballot, Elections BC says

Voters can cast a ballot until 8 p.m PST on Election Day

A 2018 decision to fly a rainbow flag ended up costing the City of Langley $62,000 in legal fees (Langley Advance Times file)
Human rights win in rainbow flag fight cost B.C. city $62,000

“Lengthy and involved” process provoked by complaint

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a news conference Tuesday October 20, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau and his family decide against trick-or-treating this year due to COVID

Adhering to local health authorities, Trudeau urges Canadians to do their part in following those guidelines

Surrey RCMP cruisers outside a Newton townhouse Tuesday night. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
Toddler in hospital, woman dead following stabbings at Surrey townhouse

Police say two-year-old was among victims found at townhouse complex in the 12700-block of 66 Avenue

A Tim Hortons employee hands out coffee from a drive-through window to a customer in Mississauga, Ont., on March 17, 2020. Tim Hortons is ending the practice of double cupping hot drinks, a move the fast food restaurant says will eliminate hundreds of millions of cups from landfills each year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
The end of double cupping: Tim Hortons ditches two cups in favour of one with sleeve

Most recycling facilities in Canada don’t recycle single use paper coffee cups because of a plastic lining

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer doctor Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Tuesday October 20, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s chief public health doctor says in the age of social media, fake news about the COVID-19 pandemic has been spreading faster than the virus itself. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
VIDEO: Fake news creates serious issues for battling pandemic, chief public health doc says

Both Tam and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians to be responsible about the information they share

Most Read