Local funeral directors say providing food at their funeral homes may not be such a bad idea.
U.S. District Judge John Jones III agrees.
Jones handed down a 159-page ruling on May 8 that struck down parts of Pennsylvania's 60-year-old set of laws governing the funeral industry, including the serving of food during services.
(Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski)
Larrie Derman, supervisor of Derman Funeral Home Inc., 1200 Lincoln Ave., Tyrone, sets up a casket in his display room.
The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed in May 2008 by Lancaster County funeral director Ernest Heffner on behalf of himself and 32 others against the State Board of Funeral Directors.
Jones said the State Board of Funeral Directors has refused to modernize the law and gave the board three months to respond to his ruling. A board spokesman said it's under review.
According to Kathleen Ryan, general counsel and chief operating officer of the Pennsylvania Funeral Directors Association, a trade group representing about 1,100 members, Jones ruling is stayed at a minimum until Aug. 8.
If Jones' ruling survives, food may be offered at Plank, Stitt & Stevens Funeral Home in Hollidaysburg.
"I am sure we would consider it. Funeral directors would have the option to cater to families if they wish," Supervisor Dave Mason said.
On occasion, people ask if they can bring in food when there is an extended viewing, Mason said.
Funeral homes would need the space to provide for food.
"As long as the facility has a separate room, it is a good idea. I wouldn't want to get involved in preparing food. You would need a proper facility first," said Larrie Derman, supervisor of Derman Funeral Home Inc., Tyrone. "I think if the facility has an adequate lunch room with a table, refrigerator, water and sink, it would be a good idea."
A lot of the newer funeral homes have built separate rooms or buildings to provide catering or to bring in their own food, said Carl Brendel, supervisor and funeral director at The Good Funeral Home Inc., Altoona.
"We need to have the law changed to do it. We have a coffee area, but we can't provide it and the family can't bring in food. They need to eat something when they are there for a long day," Brendel said. "More people are diabetic today and need food or snacks. It presents a problem for them if there is not food available."
Brendel understands why some may have concerns about offering food.
"What happens when a family brings in food and creates a great mess?" Brendel said. "I believe there was concern about it being a health hazard in the past."
Jones also struck down the portion of the law that allows only licensed funeral directors, their spouse or heirs to own funeral homes.
Some local directors don't want that part of the law to be changed.
"This could open it up to anyone who could sell funerals. We are concerned with how to protect the consumer," said Guido Santella, supervisor at Leslie E. Axe Funeral Home, Altoona. "If unlicensed people could do it, that could create problems. The purpose of licensing is to protect the public.
"That would probably destroy the value of the license we went to school for. It would allow anyone to sell funerals to the public."
There could be situations where conglomerates could come in and buy up the funeral homes, Mason said.
"I think family ownership is a good thing. It is just like a community bank. They are people you have dealt with over the years and you develop trust with them," he said.
John Eirkson, executive director of the Pennsylvania Funeral Directors Association, doesn't see a need to change that portion of the law.
"I think it has been working pretty well for a long time. They [conglomerates] are already here, but it would make it easier for them if it is upheld. They are looking for funeral homes that do 300 to 400 funerals a year and there are not a lot of them in Pennsylvania," Eirkson said.
Joseph Stevens III, president of The Stevens Mortuary Inc., Altoona, said changing the law could create problems.
"It would allow large public companies to move into Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania has many small family-owned funeral homes. The potential is there for a problem but they would just be another competitor," Stevens said.
Brendel doesn't see changing of the family ownership provision as a problem.
"I am sure some of the older funeral directors would say leave it the way it is. I don't see a problem with that [changing it]," Brendel said.
"On one aspect, it makes sense. On the other hand if the law stands as it is, my license would be more valuable if I am the only person allowed to own a funeral home," Brendel said.
Local funeral directors are pleased that Jones upheld the provision that allows only licensed funeral directors to perform cremations.
"That means not just anyone can offer cremation services. It was good that was upheld," Stevens said.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.