Funeral Industry News

The State of State Regulation in Oregon and Hawaii

September 26, 2019

The State of State Regulation in Oregon and Hawaii

Last week the Oregon death care industry made news — of the negative sort — and it wasn’t really the funeral homes’ fault. Confusing headlines like “State Inspections of Oregon Funeral Homes Fall Short” might have led readers to believe that funeral homes which were inspected by the state fell short. In reality, it’s the state that dropped the ball. 

At issue was the state’s failure to perform inspections of funeral homes, crematoriums, at operating cemeteries as they are required to do by law every two years. In 2018, only 10% of licensed facilities were inspected by the Oregon Mortuary and Cemetery Board. However, they are “hopeful” they’d be able to visit the other 90% in 2019, despite staff shortages.

Who’s in charge?

A few days after the Oregon situation hit the press, another news article called out Hawaii for a similar problem. “Hawaii’s ‘Death Care’ Industry Lacks Oversight,” reads the headline in the Honolulu Civil Beat, a nonprofit news outlet. The problem in our 50th state is a little different than Oregon’s. Rather than a state agency that’s falling behind, the issue is there is no state funeral home regulatory agency in Hawaii. 

In fact, Hawaii’s system must be frustrating for funeral professionals who want to do the right thing. Cemeteries and pre-need licensure is handled by one agency. Embalming licenses and mortuary permits are managed by another. Yet another agency monitors crematory emissions. 

And…wait for it…Hawaii has NO licensing requirements for funeral directors or sales personnel. Indeed, the link for Hawaii on the National Funeral Directors Association Licensing Board & Requirements page leads to the state’s sanitation department. Nearly all of the information on that page addresses restaurant food safety policies.

Why should you care?

If you don’t live or work in Oregon or Hawaii, you might take this information with a grain of salt. Perhaps you shouldn’t, though.

Death care facilities in all 50 states are subject to federal regulation and inspections for compliance with The Funeral Rule. The role of state agencies varies from state to state, as does what exactly they regulate and inspect. But it’s fair to say that states should be in a better position to keep tabs on licensed facilities than federal authorities, at least from a geographical and staffing perspective. Theoretically, state inspectors should be the first line of defense to discover and solve any issues before the feds have to get involved.

Of course, the vast majority of funeral home, crematorium, and cemetery owners and operators don’t wait for the state to tell them what’s wrong. They (you) know the rules on both the state and federal levels and simply abide by their requirements. You do your own inspections to make sure every one of those rules is being followed or exceeded.

However, both the Oregon and Hawaii articles bring up the dangers of haphazard or non-existent state inspections. Without oversight, those facilities that don’t follow the rules might slip through the cracks. Without adequate resources, state agencies might not be able to investigate consumer complaints. 

And before you know it, there are new headlines about the death care industry. The kind that not only ARE the fault of the funeral home, but also reflect negatively on everyone.