Interview With The Director
Keith Jenkins, a third-generation funeral director provides straight talk about funerals and funeral homes.
Q: Recently there has been a lot of publicity, including a 60 Minutes segment, about the growth of "Death care corporations" in the U.S. Exactly what is this all about?
A: Across the nation, local, family-owned funeral homes, mausoleums and cemeteries are being purchased by large, multi-national conglomerates, as discussed on CBS' 60 Minutes. They quietly buy the business, then hire a few family members to stay on to maintain the appearance of local, independent ownership, when in fact, it's just another "corporate store." Before long, the corporate emphasis on profits overrides everything else and prices start to escalate. Service, sensitivity to the consumer, and community involvement all start to become secondary, and the emphasis shifts to corporate profitability above all.
Q: You mean locally owned funeral homes don't make a profit?
A: Sure we do. But we're in friendly competition with our other local homes. We are prohibited by law from fixing prices, but we have a pretty good idea what we all charge and what things cost in our market and we know the community and the people. Our kids go to school with their kids. We see them in church and at local events. We also give a lot back to the community. We're not deceiving people into believing we're something that we're not. We have to face these people every day.
Q: Why is this different from Wal-Mart coming in and putting the local retail stores out of business? It's obvious that consumers like Wal-Mart and other big, national discount stores, or they wouldn't be so successful.
A: Wal-Mart doesn't deceive anybody. They have a big sign on all their stores that says "Wal-Mart" or "K-Mart" or "Target." They let everybody know who they are what they stand for - low prices on self-service, everyday products. They lower prices in a market through volume purchasing and elimination of services.
But when the death care conglomerates own three, four, or more businesses in the same area, they keep it quiet and maintain the facade that the businesses are still independent. That way they can fix prices at whatever level they desire - and raise them, as well. The consumer can't truly comparison shop, because they don't know that the same company owns several businesses. If they try to compare, they are led to believe that all local providers are pricing at the same, elevated levels. That's deception, and that's what 60 Minutes was calling to the public's attention.
Q: So how can the consumer tell if a funeral service provider is part of one of the conglomerates or truly independent?
A: Most of the independents are proud of it, and are advertising the fact that they are locally owned and operated. They are involved in community events. Just look for a business that participated heavily in local charities, support the schools, the churches and the arts. Don't depend on name recognition alone. And, if you really want to know, just ask them, outright.
Q: OK, We're asking... is Jenkins still locally owned?
A: Locally owned and operated since 1915. In fact, our current staff encompasses four generations and over 75 years of service to the local community. And there are locally owned funeral homes in the Cleveland area that have been around even longer than us - still independent and proud of it.
Q: Do you want to tell our readers who the corporately owned stores are?
A: Tell them to call me. I'll be happy to tell them who's who.
Q: OK. Let's handle another issue we get asked about all the time. It seems that cremation is growing in popularity. Is this signaling a change in attitudes toward the traditional funeral?
A: In many countries, such as England or Japan, cremation is the most common form of disposition. In the U.S. however, cremation accounts for only about 13 percent of the services, but the number has been increasing slowly over the past two decades. It really depends on what the family - or ideally - what the deceased preferred, if made known ahead of time.
A funeral service is for the family and friends of the deceased. It allows survivors the opportunity to express their grief, share their feelings, and receive comfort from family, friends and relatives. In a way, it's a celebration in memory of the deceased, followed by the ritual entombment and return to the earth.
Cremation is an alternative to earth burial. The deceased person's body is taken to a licensed crematory where it is put into a specially designated furnace. Intense heat reduces the body to bone fragments and ashes that collect in an area below the cremation chamber. These ashes are then placed into an urn or canister and given to the family, who has several choices of disposition.
Q: We understand some funeral homes use outside sources for their cremations?
A: Yes, the majority of funeral homes in our area use outside sources for their cremations. We installed our first crematory in 1983 on the property in Westlake, to better serve our famlies. To instill confidence in first the process of cremation and that the cremains being returned to family are accurate. It is rutinely inspected by the E.P.A. and OSHA agencies for safety and environment concerns.
Q: Can you have a funeral and still be cremated?
A: Yes, and that's what we're seeing more people choose today. Even after the choice of cremation, a traditional funeral and visitation allows survivors to recognize and accept that death has occurred - the first step in the grief process. The funeral director can prepare the body for viewing in a temporary, rented casket. This allows for a visitation service that can provide the emotional reinforcement for the deceased person's family and friends.
Q: The other thing we hear about all the time today is "pre-arrangement." What is it, and why would someone want to consider this?
A: Basically pre-arrangement, or pre-need as we call it, is simply making your own funeral plans in advance. It ensures that your personal wishes and preferences will be respected. And it spares your family and loved ones from having to make those decisions at a time when their thoughts are on grief, rather than on practical considerations. When you pre-plan, you can take time to look at all the available options, allowing you to avoid creating a financial burden for your family. It's one of the kindest things you can do for your loved ones because it saves them that expense on top of their loss.